Software problems have been blamed on a major problem in the UK where thousands of divorce settlements may now need to be reassessed.
The problem has lead to the Ministry of Justice urgently investigating a problem with its “Form E”, which could have inflated the financial position of one or other spouse over the past 20 months.
The Ministry has emailed clients requesting those who may be affected to contact the Ministry.
The sharp-eyed problem-spotter was family lawyer Nicola Matheson-Durrant of the Family Law Clinic in Ascot, Berkshire. The Ministry only publicly admitted the problem on Thursday.
The Guardian reports that it is understood that over the period when the form was producing inaccurate calculations just under 20,000 forms were downloaded. Not all of them would necessarily have been used to work out a division of assets between divorcing couples.
Matheson-Durrant told the Guardian: “Having discovered the fault and advised the MoJ, it became apparent that not a single solicitor, barrister or judge in the whole of the UK had noticed this error. It is such a critical fault. This form has been used in training so it will also have been seen by paralegals, university law departments and the Law Society.”
Matheson-Durrant is not a legally qualified solicitor or barrister, but is a McKenzie Friend, a lay expert who helps litigants.
When she reported the mistake to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, part of the MoJ, earlier this month it admitted to her that Form E was at fault and eventually, after repeated promptings, rectified the software. It made no public announcement about the error.
The HMCTS email did not thank her for spotting the problem but explained, in a defensive tone: “It is not our policy to change dates for technical errors, but to show that a change has happened we have added an additional code.”
One particular paragraph, numbered 2.20, which is suposed to produce totals, fails to reflect the minus figure of final liabilities entered earlier on, producing 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.
London’s reputation as the divorce capital of the world may be affected, although unlikely. However some possible foreign claimants could well be affected by the divorce software glitch.