Court staff suspended over warrant errors

Topics: Family and children,Courts business,Government & politics

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  • Michael Gove

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.

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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.’

Readers' comments (11)

  • Well if they start charging £20,000 a go - seems to be the Gove rate - maybe they will do it properly.

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  • Mr Gove -if there were enough staff to do the damn job, they'd do it correctly. I have practiced in Greater Manchester for more than 30 years. The inevitable results of the cuts to HMCTS staff meant that something like this was bound to happen. And, for crying out loud, its hardly the end of the world is it?

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  • Mr Gove could you please possibly give us a timeline as to when the Justices will be brought to heel for their, shall we say 'Human Error' in terms of their blatant refusal to allow right to access remedy under Statute, I.e their refusals in my experience to allow valid applications for Statutory Declaration in order to protect their golfing buddies.

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  • I accept that staff morale, shortages, stress, and mountainous volumes of work may have had an effect. Here, however, there seems (may) to have been a disinclination to deal with the actual file that was presented for a decision. An avalanche backlog is not, I hope, an offence; nor a conscientious request for clarification.

    And I think that the heart is being torn out of a legal system that I believed was beyond compare. Though actually, I don't blame (entirely) politicians, who don't have the feel/experience over time (which is what the law's administration needs) and so makes them vulnerable; but rather civil servants, who don't like being thwarted.

    If so, and obviously I don't know the ins and outs, then something needs to be explained and done about it.

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  • @Kerry Underwood19 February 2016 06:53 pm

    "...Well if they start charging £20,000 a go - seems to be the Gove rate - maybe they will do it properly. .."

    Kerry, you are fairly bright here. You know that once you go down the route of using the Criminal Courts to 'supervise' offenders, you need the resources.

    @Richard Peter Whitehurst20 February 2016 09:00 pm

    "...I accept that staff morale, shortages, stress, and mountainous volumes of work may have had an effect. Here, however, there seems (may) to have been a disinclination to deal with the actual file that was presented for a decision. ...
    And I think that the heart is being torn out of a legal system that I believed was beyond compare. Though actually, I don't blame (entirely) politicians, who don't have the feel/experience over time (which is what the law's administration needs) and so makes them vulnerable; but rather civil servants, who don't like being thwarted. ..."

    I am not sure here Richard. The MP's knew exactly what they were doing when tyhye brought in the New Blair Squeegee Merchant regime.

    Civil enforcement by the back door. But, without the resources. Next stop inquisitorial 'tribunals' (as we have seen in another part of the LSG today but without attendance at Court).

    And any more investment as per Middleton envisaged with the Civil Courts?

    Non... mais non non non ...

    At some point (I cant predict when) this is going to blow up. It is just that hopefully most of the dangerous criminals will already be inside. It is just they will be inside with a proportion of innocent people as well (i.e. maybe even your class (see Nigel Evans and Paul Backchaining as examples) ....

    Be afraid.............

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  • "Gove said the errors were due to ‘processes being disapplied or ignored by specific members of HMCTS staff in the Greater Manchester area’. " but "A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice told the Gazette the warrants were not processed properly as a result of ‘human error’".
    Now it seems to me that these are two incompatible statements. Either they deliberately "disapplied or ignored processes" OR they made genuine mistakes. It appears that the staff did whatever meant that they could "turn the handle" to satisfy targets even if it meant that they went off piste/

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  • Some form of justice then.

    Regardless of the HMCTS staff and their commitment to serving the public - they are after all our Courts not the government's - I despise the Civil Service trend in recent times to support policy, rather than actual law, and their attempt to cover this up.

    Examples would be in allowing a claimant to issue their own Court Summons or for HMCTS to 'rubber stamp' Liability Orders for the purpose of collecting Council Tax.

    Another example would be in allowing Legal Advisors to run hearings and issue Court Orders in Family Court under the Children Act.

    The system isn't broken - it has been designed that way.

    Thousands are being failed and, I'm sorry to say, it was the responsibilty of those at the top to manage this professionally rather than put the blame on those at the bottom.

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  • I agree Steve.

    Always blame the lowest denominator though.

    Thats the name of the game in modern British Society.

    Dont accept any blame.

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  • I'm somewhat bemused that a secretary of state needs to be getting involved in this level of operational detail. Even if the senior civil servants at HMCTS aren't deemed senior enough to address the issues, surely a more junior minister can deal with this. Seems a bit over the top to me - it's like Mr Gove hasn't got enough to be getting on with...

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  • In 2014 I was issued with a demand to pay a parking fine for parking my bus on Lambeth Road at a designated bus stand. Because of legislation governing the number of hours that a bus driver can drive before taking a compulsory rest period of 45 minutes, I stayed past the time shown on the notice. An appeal revealed that Lambeth Council had never applied for the siting on such a parking area, therefore there was no legitimate claim by the council for a parking misdemeanour. I wonder how many people have paid up for "an offence" at this site? And I wonder how many other site have no legitimacy but have raked in considerable funds for the councils. Is someone prepared to do a survey because by definition this is fraud.

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