The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is “urgently investigating” a glitch in one of its digital forms which could mean that some divorced couples have to go back to court. “Form E” is an online form used for disclosing parties assets in order for them to reach a financial settlement. The form miscalculated assets by failing to subtract certain liabilities such as debt which lead to an inflated overall worth. Only the form on the MoJ website, and other versions based on it, are affected.
Miscalculations only came to light when a family law clinic in Ascot spotted inconsistencies between the figures the form returned and the figures they had calculated. Since being alerted of the issue the MoJ has published an email address asking anyone who thinks they may have been affected by the issue to contact them..
The government is currently carrying out a digital overhaul of the justice system; namely with the launch of an eBay-style online resolution system which allows civil claims under £25,000 to be settled online with the remote assistance of legal professionals. Errors like the one found in the Form E are likely to raise questions over the deployment of technology across the legal system and potentially open the door to claims against the government for any detriment suffered as a result of errors.
Judgements from courts as high as the Court of Appeal have been based on the calculations given by the form, and it is likely some of those judgements will be appealed or overturned now it has emerged the figures were not accurate. It is believed that the MoJ was unaware of the error for some 20 months, and all the while up to 20,000 unaware divorcees were using the form to disclose assets. However it is worth stating that many thousands of couples will have used versions of the form with no calculation glitch or they may have used a manual workaround to avoid the miscalculation.
Specifically, the glitch is believed to affect section 2.2 on some versions of the Form E. It has been suggested that it is mainly couples who filled in the form themselves online who have been affected, although inevitably some forms completed by solicitors will be affected too. For those who filled in the form themselves, the MoJ has advised to check what version of the form was used. The faulty form was available online since April 2014 however it was taken down earlier this month.
The true impact of this error may not be clear for some time, however it only highlights the importance of having such crucial documents checked thoroughly. No doubt these errors are going to re-open a wound for many who may had found closure after their divorce.
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by Lewis Sweeney
This article was written by Lewis Sweeney, a guest blogger of Grayfords.
Lewis is a law student who studies at the University of Westminster.
He is in the process of completing his LLB and has aspirations of becoming a barrister.