HC Deb 17 May 1978 vol 950 cc465-7
33. Mr. Gourlay

asked the Lord Advocate what are the main advantages for persons using the new divorce procedure recently introduced in Scotland.

The Lord Advocate

The new divorce procedure which came into force on 25th April 1978 allows affidavit evidence to be accepted in undefended divorce actions. The effect of this is that in the great majority of divorce cases there will be no court hearing at which parties and witnesses have to give oral evidence. Savings in time and expense will result.

Mr. Gourlay

I welcome the improvements in the divorce procedure in Scotland. Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell me why the Scots cannot have the "do-it-yourself" scheme, which, south of the border, costs less than £20 in uncontested divorce actions? Under our new procedure, due to the closed shop in the legal profession, even an uncontested divorce action in Scotland still costs about £200.

The Lord Advocate

There should be savings in both time and expense under the new procedure. It remains competent in divorce proceedings for a party to conduct his own case. Whether such a party would be able to take full advantage of the new procedure I cannot say, but clearly the potentiality is there.

On his point about "do-it-yourself" divorces, the general view in Scotland, which I share, is that divorce is a serious matter and should not be regarded as similar to registering or deregistering a car.

Mr. Russell Johnston

Despite the twice-repeated opinion of the Lord Advocate that there should be savings in time and expense under the new procedure, he must be aware that there are those who believe that the new procedure could be more expensive than the old. Has he made any examination of the way in which the new procedure is working and whether it is more expensive?

The Lord Advocate

I have not specifically inquired into the detail of the working of the procedure, but there can be little doubt that a streamlined procedure that cuts out stages which are at present necessary and mandatory must give the opportunity to save time and expense.

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Will the Lord Advocate acknowledge that, all too frequently, it is the children of broken marriages who suffer at the end of the day? Is he satisfied that under the new procedure the settlement for children appears to be adequate and whether the procedure itself is appropriate for ensuring that the proper settlement is obtained for the children, who are the sufferers?

The Lord Advocate

Indeed, that is a matter that is specifically dealt with in the Act of Sederunt.

Mr. Dewar

Will the Lord Advocate institute inquiries in the months ahead as to the possible savings in cost, given that the present undefended divorce costs in Scotland are probably nearer £250 than £200? Will he say something about constructive reform, such as moving towards divorces in the sheriff courts, for example?

The Lord Advocate

On the latter point, my hon. Friend is well aware of the arguments. There are two sides to the case. Obviously, while there are advantages in having a jurisdiction of this kind in the sheriff court, from the point of view of locality and accessibility, one must bear in mind that the new concept of "breakdown" has implications for all aspects of the family. The only court which has complete jurisdiction over all aspects of family matters is the Court of Session. Having said that, I am glad to accept the suggestion that I should institute an inquiry into the expense of divorce. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that the £250 figure that he mentioned, for an undefended divorce, applied before 25th April 1978.