Solicitors are being urged to check divorce petitions after it emerged that 40% have to be returned to them for correction owing to errors.
The statistic was quoted on Tuesday at a briefing session on a new divorce hub for London and the south-east, which is expected to handle 40% of all divorce work in England and Wales. Only cases that require a hearing will be transferred to the parties’ preferred court.
Work is being transferred from the 45 divorce courts in London and the south-east to the Bury St Edmunds hub on a phased basis. So far that transfer has been completed for 28 of the 45. By October all undefended divorce work, with the exception of urgent matters, will be processed through the new centre.
Present at the briefing were HH Judge Lynn Roberts, circuit judge with responsibility for the centre and HH Judge Martin O’Dwyer, head of the financial remedies unit. The session was chaired by Margaret Heathcote, London region chair of family lawyers group Resolution.
Solicitor Tony Roe (pictured), who broke the news that Bury St Edmunds would host the new hub, welcomed the fact that HMCTS has begun a dialogue with family solicitors. But he warned that the size of the task must not be underestimated.
‘HMCTS hopes for economies of scale, not to mention a better service,’ he said. ‘Indeed, the service said that there was a a backlog of 600 petitions in Brighton and Guildford going back three months and it was decided to transfer the work of those courts to Bury St Edmunds now.’
Transfer of work from London was planned for June but is now unlikely to happen before July.
Roe added: ‘HMCTS has quoted an alarming 40% of petitions which have to be returned for correction to solicitors’ firms owing to errors in drafting or procedure, for example failure to enclose issue fees, lack of signature or missing/incorrect details. It will pay practitioners to check and have someone else double check all petitions they plan to file.’
The session heard that new legal advisers, who will carry out some of the functions previously carried out by district judges, must not form a judgment on the facts relied on within petitions. Roe said solicitors were assured by HMCTS that they will not be turned away from any family court if they have an urgent petition or application.
‘[HMCTS] says that the solicitor submitting the need for urgency will be trusted,’ he added. ‘Let’s hope this happens, especially where there is little or no counter service available.’
Bury St Edmunds is one of about a dozen centres across England and Wales that will act as the single point of entry for all divorce and financial remedy applications. They are expected to be fully operational in all regions by December 2015.
- The Law Society is running a series of three seminars on the centralisation of divorce courts, in London on 18 June and later in Birmingham and Manchester.