Court staff suspended over warrant errors
A number of staff at HM Courts & Tribunals Service have been suspended after ‘human error’ led to warrants not being processed properly.
Justice secretary Michael Gove said today that he was alerted to an error in the processing of an individual community penalty breach warrant by HMCTS on 26 January.
A HMCTS investigation found that a further 51 breach warrants had been processed incorrectly in the Greater Manchester Area.
In a letter to the chair of the Commons justice select committee, Gove said the errors were due to ‘processes being disapplied or ignored by specific members of HMCTS staff in the Greater Manchester area’.
He noted that the effect of a breach warrant not being processed properly ’can be that notification that a warrant has been issued to arrest an individual is either sent late to the arresting authority or not sent at all’.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice told the Gazette the warrants were not processed properly as a result of ‘human error’.
Disciplinary action has been taken against individuals identified as responsible.
‘Members of staff in the most extreme cases have been suspended pending formal disciplinary proceedings,’ the spokesperson said.
Gove’s letter states that the 52 warrants have since been processed correctly ‘and have either been actioned or are in the process of being actioned by the enforcing authority’.
However, a wider investigation of live warrants in England and Wales has identified a further 69 errors nationally, including 47 in London.
Gove said investigations are now examining the reasons for error in all 69 cases outside Greater Manchester, and are particularly focused on why a disproportionate number appear to have occurred in London.
The letter continues: ‘Early findings have already made clear that the majority of the errors in London were due to a change in process and personnel that had been addressed by the end of January 2016.’
The ministry spokesperson said investigations into the London errors are ‘ongoing’ and that the government is still looking into which individuals are responsible.
HR investigations are still ongoing into the 22 non-London cases.
Gove also said today he has been alerted to ‘a further calculator problem’ following investigations into how the financial assets of more than 3,600 couples were miscalculated due to the error in the self-assessment form on the Ministry of Justice website.
The error in the divorce form - Form E - was discovered at the end of 2015 but had been present on the MoJ website since at least April 2014. The errors left debts out of its automated calculation of settlements.
Gove said today that a ‘further calculator problem’ had been identified in a past version of another form, Form E1.
Form E1 is used by parties to disclose financial information in certain kinds of financial proceedings, including proceedings for financial provision for children that fall outside the statutory maintenance scheme.
Gove said the fault meant the automatic calculator in the form ‘calculated the wrong total for an individual’s net assets by failing to deduct certain liabilities’.
The ‘faulty formula’ was present in the version of Form E1 available on the HMCTS Form Finder website between April 2011 and March 2012.
A HMCTS search on 459 potentially affected cases shows that three Form E1s contained the calculation error.
Gove said: ‘These mistakes are deeply regrettable and I sincerely apologise to anyone who may have been affected.’
Family law arbitrator Tony Roe said: ‘What is surprising is that before Christmas, HMCTS were on the record as saying that Form E1 was wholly unaffected, problems only being confined to the divorce Form E, yet only now do they say they were wrong.
‘Michael Gove’s statement does not address this U-turn, nor does he say why it has taken HMCTS two months to spot this additional problem.’