Martin Partington: Spotlight on the Justice System

Keeping the English Legal System under review

Divorce on-line: a cautionary tale

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There is much talk, excitement even, at the prospect of the court system at last taking steps to embrace on-line technologies to increase efficiency in the process of resolving disputes.

There are already a number of proceedings that can be started on-line, such as possession proceedings and money actions.

The family courts are also engaged in these developments. But just before Christmas 2015 a problem was identified with one of the on-line forms that can be used – Form E.

Form E is the form on which parties in divorce, dissolution, nullity or judicial separation proceedings disclose information about their assets and liabilities. One feature of the Form is that is has a calculator built in which calculates a figure which judges can then use to judge any financial settlement.

This fault that was discovered meant that the automatic calculator in the form calculated the wrong total for an individual’s net assets by failing to deduct certain liabilities.

The fault had not always been there but it  was present in versions of Form E which were online between April 2014 and mid December 2015 and also between April 2011 and January 2012.

HMCTS staff found that a total of 36,527 cases had used different versions of the Form, of which 3,638 files – 10% – contained the faulty calculator version of Form E. Of these, 1,403 cases were still live, allowing HMCTS to intervene immediately to clearly flag these cases to the courts in order to avoid the error affecting the final orders in these cases.

But 2,235 files – 6.1% – were closed cases, so that the fault could have affected the outcome.

On 21 January 2016 the Minister Shailash Vara announced that parties in these cases would be contacted to see whether they wanted their case to be reviewed.

Although the increased use of IT in court dispute-resolution procedures is inevitable, this instance is a reminder of the importance of ensuring that relevant software is throughly tested before it is made publicly available.

It should be noted that the error was not discovered by a solicitor (they tend to use different software) but by a company called the Family Law Clinic who provide low cost assistance to parties seeking to do the divorce themselves.

It may also be noted that DIY divorce is not just for those of moderate means. The high profile divorce announcement, also in January 2016, by Gary Lineker contained the information that he and his wife had obtained their divorce for just £400.

For the ministerial statement on Form E see https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/family-justice.

For the family law clinic see http://www.familylawclinic.co.uk/contact-us.html

For news of the Lineker divorce see http://money.aol.co.uk/2016/01/18/how-the-linekers-did-it-keeping-divorce-costs-down/

 

 

 

 

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Written by lwtmp

January 22, 2016 at 11:42 am

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