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Exes’ finances falsely inflated from online MoJ bug

Urgent investigation launched into 'potentially catastrophic' error

18 December 2015

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Couples who divorced in the last 20 months should check their financial information after a major online fault used to calculate financial settlements was found.

The error concerns paragraph 2.20 of the Ministry of Justice's (MoJ) form E, which failed to include financial liabilities in its totals, potentially leading to a divorcee's worth being inflated.

Carmel Brown, a family law solicitor at Thomas Eggar, now merged with Irwin Mitchell LLP, commented the MoJ's software error is 'potentially catastrophic'.

'The figures in Forms E are relied on to calculate a husband and wife's assets before a fair settlement can be decided/achieved, and division of assets based on incorrect capital values of one or both parties could produce a very unfair settlement.'

Brown added: 'Those people affected by these mistakes may have to re-open their financial settlements to rectify these errors, which may be extremely costly and is particularly unfortunate given that a final financial order is supposed to provide parties with certainty and finality.'

While the error does not affect all couples, people have been advised to check. Those who entrusted a professional family law service which uses other electronic legal forms software will be unaffected.

The problem was present on the MoJ website from April 2014 until it was corrected earlier this month, though it was not publicly disclosed until now. The MoJ has launched an urgent investigation into the issue.

Tony Roe, principal at Tony Roe Solicitors, commented: 'My enquiries of HMCTS reveal that all courts that hold divorce files are currently undertaking a review of all their financial cases. The exercise has, of course, found practitioners’ own non-MoJ Forms E, which are not affected by the problem, as well as different versions of the MoJ’s on-line item.

'I understand that this widespread check is ongoing and the results are not yet known. What is clear is that the MoJ’s Form E1, used in Schedule 1 Children Act 1989 applications, is unaffected.

'What if the financial relief application is ongoing where there is an offending MoJ Form E? Those who have contacted HMCTS have been told that judges will be made aware that the issue will need to be dealt with in the proceedings. Indeed, a circular went out to the judiciary Friday 18 December. As for next steps we wait and see.'

A spokesman for Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) said officials were trying to 'identify rapidly cases where this regrettable error may have had an impact', and will contact those affected.

Meanwhile, Brown has some advice for recently divorced couples.

'They should look back at their form E (and the form E of their former spouse), and manually calculate at paragraph 2.20 the total value of the capital assets (i.e. add totals A to G and then subtract D)', she said.

'It could seriously affect those people with large liabilities, including credit card debts, bank loans and tax liabilities, as the miscalculation would produce a wrong and misleading picture of their wealth,' Brown added.

An HMCTS spokesman said 'anyone concerned about their own court proceedings should contact formE@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk'.

Matthew Rogers is an editorial assistant at Solicitors Journalmatthew.rogers@solicitorsjournal.co.uk | @sportslawmatt

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