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Over 3,600 divorce cases contain faulty Form E calculation

Justice Minister Shailesh Vara apologises for MoJ 'failure'

21 January 2016

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The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has apologised to over 3,600 divorcing couples who may have had their financial assets miscalculated by a faulty version of an online Form E document.

The fault meant the automatic calculator in the form produced the wrong total for an individual's net assets by failing to deduct certain liabilities.

The MoJ was alerted to the error on 10 December 2015 and a corrected version of the form was put online on 14 December, just before parliament's Christmas recess.

An investigation ordered by the justice minister, Shailesh Vara, found the defective formula was present in versions of Form E that were available online between April 2014 and mid-December 2015, as well as between April 2011 and January 2012.

A total of 36,527 cases contained a version of Form E filed from these periods. HMCTS staff found that 10 per cent of these cases contained an incorrect figure for a party's net assets.

A total of 1,403 cases are still live, and HMCTS has flagged these cases to the courts. The remaining 2,235 files were found to be closed cases.

The justice minister has instructed HMCTS to write to all parties in the closed cases expressing regret for the error and explaining there is a possibility the error affected the final outcome.

'If people think they have been affected by this error then they can apply to the court to vary or set aside their order,' explained Vara.

'I have instructed that no court fee will be charged for making this application, and this is also made clear in the letter from HMCTS.'

'This failure should not have happened,' he added. 'Divorce proceedings can be very difficult and I sincerely apologise for this situation and any distress it may have caused.'

Responding to the news, Tony Roe, principal at Tony Roe Solicitors, said: 'Clearly the scale of the review has taken more time and resources than anyone may have envisaged. I am not sure why the minister says that the wider implications of the faulty form were not immediately recognised. It was obvious to specialist family lawyers.

'Originally, Michael Gove, Justice Secretary, said that up to 17,000 people might have been affected. That figure now announced is double that,' he continued. '1,403 of these cases are still live so hopefully the issue can be proactively dealt with.'

'Waiving any necessary court fee is one thing but these people will need specialist legal advice over a complex issue and there is no longer legal aid there for them.' 

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Divorce Courts & Judiciary