Courts & Tribunals Service ordered to contact thousands of divorcees affected by faulty online form

Minister says longstanding errors with online documents could have affected 2,200 divorce settlements

By Jim Dunton

22 Jan 2016

Ministers have ordered HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) to contact the parties involved in more than 2,000 divorce cases to let them know that a faulty online form could mean the details of their settlements are wrong.

It emerged last month that an error with an asset calculator contained in divorce paperwork known as “Form E” meant that wrong values for parties’ net assets could have been produced.

In a written statement to parliament on Thursday, courts minister Shailesh Vara said an HMCTS review had identified 2,235 closed cases that could be affected by the error.

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He said more than 36,000 divorce cases had used versions of Form E during two periods when the faulty document was in use, but that only 10 percent had been affected by the issue.

Around 1,400 of the divorce cases were still live, Vara added, meaning the error could be addressed and that only closed cases presented a potential ongoing problem.

“I have instructed HMCTS to write to all parties,” he said.

“The letter expresses our sincere regret for the error, sets out what happened and explains that, although Form E is just one part of the evidence used in their case, there remains a possibility that 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.”

Vara said no fees would be charged for such applications. The normal fee for the service would be £245, although different fees would apply if an applicant sought to reopen the order via an appeal.

Vara’s statement did not explain why the faulty form was seemingly reintroduced after a two-year absence. The Ministry of Justice told Civil Service World that investigations into why two different iterations of Form E contained the error were ongoing.

An MoJ spokeswoman said the amount of resource HMCTS allocated to dealing with settlement errors would “depend on the volume of applications received”.

HMCTS declined the opportunity to comment on the situation.

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