Nunc pro tunc is a Latin phrase which translates as “now for then.” It is used to refer to situations in which a court authorizes a change of the legal record after the fact in order to correct an error. Nunc pro tunc orders can only be used when it is demonstrated that the court created an error which could interfere with justice. This is designed to ensure that people do not retroactively change court orders and records whenever it suits them.
In a classic example of how a nunc pro tunc order might be used, the clerk of a court could forget to file a divorce decree properly. This could be uncovered after the fact and a judge might order that the decree be filed and backdated so that the decree is effective on the date it was supposed to be. In this case, the clerk made an error which could prove problematic for any number of reasons, ranging from the potential for the parties to dispute over division of assets to a concerns that a remarriage could be viewed as bigamous. Thus, the court grants permission to backdate the record.
A nunc pro tunc order can also be used to change a court record if the record is not correct. For example, if a trial record fails to record the verdict or the wrong verdict is entered, it can be altered with a nunc pro tunc order. There are a number of situations in which errors might come up, ranging from responses which are not filed when received to accidental misfilings or inaccurate reportings. The ability to change things after the event with the permission of the court is designed to ensure that such incidents do not result in injustice.
In order for a nunc pro tunc ruling to be justified, it must be clearly demonstrated that there is an error in the record and that the court needs to correct it. People cannot alter past court rulings to create injustice and the alteration must conform with the actual events which occurred in court. For example, someone cannot retroactively change a child custody ruling to award custody to Parent B if the court proceedings clearly stated that custody should be awarded to Parent A.
Errors do happen. Measures such as the ability to make a request for a nunc pro tunc ruling exist so that people can correct errors without having to bring a suit back to court.