The government says there will no job losses arising from the closure of several regional divorce centres.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service confirmed last month that it has closed centres in Stoke, Wrexham and Port Talbot, and will begin closing venues in Bradford and Nottingham. The centres opened in 2015 but more work has shifted online since HMCTS began digitising the divorce application process.
A HMCTS spokesperson said: 'No jobs are being lost as a result of these closures and moving the divorce service online has already sped up the process for more than 70,000 applicants since its launch. Courts and Tribunals Service Centres remain a key part of our £1bn reform programme and will ensure we deliver better services for all our users.'
All digital divorce cases are now handled at courts and tribunals service centres in Stoke-on-Trent. Over 70,000 online applications have been submitted through HMCTS's Apply for a Divorce service since spring 2018. HMCTS says the return rate for incorrectly-filled forms has fallen from 40% to 1%.
The centres were heavily criticised by senior judges for delays and inefficiencies.
Centres in Newport, Liverpool, Southampton and Bury St Edmunds will remain open. However, HMCTS envisages that all new divorce petitions will be issued either directly online or via a 'digital by default' process.
Once the 'digital by default' process has been rolled out, the work will be processed by the service centre, which will continue to deal with all calls relating to the divorce process in the first instance. Bury St Edmunds will eventually become a longer-term ‘legacy’ site dealing with paper-based work that cannot be done digitally.
Last year the Public and Commercial Services Union, which has 11,000 members in the Ministry of Justice, told the Commons justice select committee that it was in dispute over HMCTS's failure to consult staff about introducing and moving work to the service centres in Stoke-on-Trent and Birmingham.
HMCTS is currently piloting longer opening hours at the service centres. A third centre will open in Loughborough this spring. The government has previously said it expects the total of full-time equivalent courts staff to fall from 16,000 to 11,300 by the end of the reform programme.