Former Family Division President criticises regional divorce centres

Regional divorce centre errors have been criticised by the former President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby.

It comes after current President Andrew McFarlane admitting that the 11 centres have ‘not worked out well’, as he singled out Bury St Edmunds, Bradford and Liverpool for ‘wholly unacceptable service’.

Figures from HM Courts & Tribunal Service (HMCTS) showed that the biggest regional divorce centre (Bury St Edmunds) had experienced a sharp increase in delays in 2018. It took 373 days from issuing a petition to decree absolute on average, an increase of 9 per cent from 2017.

Sir Andrew McFarlane recently apologised to practitioners for the delays and inadequacies at the regional divorce centres, with official data showing that it can take up to 51 weeks for couples to officially divorce.

The introduction of online applications and centralised systems, in the form of the regional divorce centres, are intended to streamline the service.

Sir James Munby, said that they have become “bywords for delay and inefficiency, essentially because HMCTS has been unable or unwilling to furnish them with adequate numbers of staff and judges.”

He added that on three occasions it was impossible to read the names of the deputy district judge or assistant justices’ clerk on official certification because the ‘scrawled name’ was illegible.

Sir James Munby also said that the assistant justices’ clerk was too busy to make the necessary deletions on the certificates, “Again, this is simply not good enough. This is an important document which should be completed carefully and properly.”

Munby concluded, saying that the sooner the divorce process is entirely digital from beginning to end, the better.

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Alison Green
Alison joined Mackrell.Solicitors in 1989 and qualified as a solicitor in 1991, becoming a partner in the firm in 2010. Her expertise covers matrimonial work, including divorce and the associated financial and children issues; pre and post-nuptial agreements; co-habitation disputes; civil partnership agreements and the breakdown of civil partnerships.