A Stratford law firm is helping speed up and simplify family law cases for its clients by playing a leading role in a new pilot scheme for the Ministry of Justice.
Woolley & Co was one of only a handful of family law firms to initially sign up to help shape the new online portal, which allows divorce lawyers to summit divorce applications and consent orders electronically.
“So far, we have used the scheme to apply for 37 divorces and 62 consent orders. We are finding it is much faster than the current route. In fact we’ve had cases turned around within 24 hours, as opposed to the one to two months that they can sometimes take,” said Andrew Woolley, Managing Partner at Woolley & Co, Solicitors.
“It really is a big attempt to pull the legal sector into the 21st Century, as many of its practices are still steeped in paperwork, with documents exchanged in the mail, paper files sat with the courts and then a waiting game for any kind of response.
“Our lawyers all have horror stories of decree nisi (the first stage in a divorce) taking four months and, in some instances, courts taking two months to even open the post. Then there are delays through cases being transferred between courts as the court system creaks under the stain.
“A key element of our involvement is providing feedback on how the electronic system works, spotting any technical bugs, raising questions about the process, that sort of thing.
“The key benefit to our clients is speed and more instant feedback. There are judges working on the pilot, to review cases as they are submitted meaning turning around documentation really quickly, whether that is simply agreeing with what is submitted or coming back with queries.”
Nearly 40 firms are now involved in the pilot scheme, allowing HM Courts and Tribunal Service, on behalf of the Ministry of Justice, to test the system under a higher level of demand.
“The reality of family law in 2019 is that court closures, reductions in staff, a chronic shortage of judges and the removal of legal aid in the majority of family law cases has created a crisis,” added Andrew.
“As family lawyers we are often in the firing line for criticism. The prolonged process causes additional stress for thousands of Warwickshire couples each year.
“We’ve been asked to take part in an extension of the pilot to deal with contested financial proceedings. This is another significant move forward.
In a bid to highlight the flaws in the current system, Woolley & Co have sent an open letter to Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi, calling on him to get involved to help cut times couples have to wait as a result of overloaded family courts. In particular, they would like to see him championing the proposed no fault divorce which would negate the need for couples to list faults of partners in their divorce paperwork and therefore reduce the animosity right from the outset.
Woolley & Co was founded in Stratford in 1996 and now has more than 20 partner-level solicitors working at locations across England and Wales. Each year the firm handles around 1,500 cases for clients around the UK and overseas.