Court fees, High profile divorce and a Family Law review

Court fees, High profile divorce and a Family Law review

Courts Make a Profit!

The recent decision to cancel the huge increase in employment tribunal fees (and the reimbursement to Applicants of those fees) threw in doubt the Government's intended aim of the Courts and Tribunal Service making a "profit". No mention has been made of a reversal to the recent increases in Court fees for family work and in particular the fee needed to start a divorce which has recently gone through a series of unprecedented increases.

The annual report of HM Courts and Tribunal Service covering the year ended March 2017 stated that the service had a fee income from civil courts of about £800 million with £186 million of this from family justice fees and £602 million from civil justice fees. Once spending on civil justice was taken into account the Government recorded a surplus "profit" of almost £102 million.

Ironically given the decision to cancel the increases in tribunal fees HMCTS recorded an overall loss of £162 million on tribunal business during the same year. Tribunal fees were worth £11.7 million.

Users of the Family and Civil Courts will not be surprised by the news that Court staff numbers fell by 5.6%. At a time where the Civil Court Service is making a "profit" the level of service from many areas is at an all-time low. For example consolidating divorce work in regional "Divorce Centres" has left many Solicitors and people acting in person very frustrated at a time when fees have escalated.

High Profile Divorces

The divorce of Petra Ecclestone and husband James Stunt is reported to have £5.5 billion at stake following the breakup of their marriage. Miss Ecclestone is the daughter of Bernie Ecclestone the Formula 1 tycoon.

The Judge in the case was reported as urging them to settle their divorce in private as he warned of the potential effect on their children of a public hearing and the need for compromise. Miss Ecclestone was stated to have tried to find a consensual approach to the ending of the marriage but that had been rejected by her husband. Sadly it is often one party who feels that they have tried everything to reach a compromise and it is the other that has not.

Petra and James had been arguing about whether their relationship had broken down and the Judge said it was a "very sad state of affairs" that the question of whether the relationship had broken down could not be determined between the parties. Miss Ecclestone's Barrister said "it is more than unfortunate. It is absolutely scandalous. It is completely obvious this marriage has irretrievably broken down. What is going on is no more than a charade". In the background appears to be the major issue over a Pre-Nuptial Agreement that had been signed but in the absence of any agreement the Judge dealing with the case had no alternative but to set down a framework for a series of hearings to take place.

World's Longest Divorce?

What has been suggested by newspapers as the longest divorce battle in Britain has hit the headlines. This relates to what has been quoted as a sixteen year "war" between a former British Airways Captain and his third wife arguing over money since they split in 2001. The Judge dealing with the case said that the length of time "beggars belief".

The ex-wife told the Court of Appeal Judges that she just wanted the money her family was owed to be able to get on with her life. The ex-husband denied "playing technical games" and insisted that he was simply trying to protect his current (fourth) wife "from the wreckage of the past"!

Whilst this sixteen year divorce "battle" is thankfully a rarity delays are increasing with the Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre who are currently working on a delay of twenty-seven working days for dealing with incoming post. At a time when the Courts are making a profit the cynic would question whether this is at the cost of service levels with the pain of centralising work to a Divorce Centre still continuing.

The even bigger shock and concern to the parties involved in the sixteen year divorce battle is likely to be how much it has cost them in legal fees let alone emotional damage.

Commentary by Neale Grearson, Head of Clapham & Collinge Family Law Department.

To find out more or discuss your individual requirements in further detail, our dedicated Family Law Solicitors will be delighted to help. Contact us today on 01603 693500 or email us using the 'Make an enquiry' form. Appointments available at our Norwich, North Walsham, Brooke and Sheringham offices.