Penningtons Manches family law partner James Stewart has been quoted in a Financial Times article published earlier today highlighting an error in an online form used by divorcing couples in England and Wales.
The form, known as Form E, which is found on the Ministry of Justice website, is the means by which parties disclose information about their assets and liabilities. A glitch has been identified in the automatic calculations used in the software; one particular paragraph was supposed to produce totals but failed to reflect the minus figure of final liabilities entered earlier on, creating a simple mathematical error. If a party had significant debts or liabilities, they were not recognised or recorded on the electronic form, potentially inflating their true worth. Distorted net figures of applicants’ assets were therefore being produced.
The error has been present since April 2014 but has only just been uncovered. According to the Financial Times, the issue has the potential to affect the 17,000 people going through divorce proceedings and could lead to an unprecedented amount of cases being re-opened.
James, who is recognised as a leading divorce law specialist by both Chambers Guide to the UK Legal Profession and The Legal 500 and also features in the 2015 Super Lawyers' list as one of the top 10 lawyers in London, says that the error is ‘indicative of a wider malaise’ resulting from funding cuts and ‘ill considered’ administrative reforms. He also explains that ‘the services have seriously deteriorated in the last couple of years’.
Michael Gove, Justice Secretary, has apologised for the blunder. The Ministry of Justice is urgently investigating the extent of the errors on Form E and has published an email address – formE@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk – asking anyone who believes they have been affected to contact the department.