Experienced family lawyer looks at a recent judgment that provides clarity for residence and staff of refuges.
As a person who has worked in the area of domestic abuse for over 20 years, I was excited to read the sensible and well thought through Judgment of Sir Andrew McFarlane in Re P (Service on Parents in a Refuge)  EWHC 471 (Fam) Re P judgment (judiciary.uk). This Judgment was handed down earlier this month.
The situation set out within the case is one which is all too familiar to those of us who practise in the family courts dealing with issues of domestic abuse where our clients are seeking protection from the court on an emergency basis.
As a lawyer, we are instructed by individuals whose plight is seen from the perspective of the person seeking the protective Order. Often it is not immediately clear who is the victim or who may be the perpetrator, even if classification were so simple.
Those of us who do victim-based work are familiar with the staff members and location of refuges which can put us in some difficulty when instructed to act on behalf of a party who believes that their former partner has fled to a refuge.
The judgment carefully weighs up all the existing legal provisions, the concerns of interest groups, and the court’s responsibility in deciding what is the appropriate way to address the issue of service in this context.
I was particularly heartened to see the representation on behalf of those whose first language is not English and who are not familiar with our justice system or the difficulties of being served with papers which they cannot read for themselves. The Judgment makes it the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that documents are provided, when served upon the respondent, in their first language as well as English. This, to my mind, is something that has been long overdue and very much to be welcomed so that those individuals being served with orders can immediately begin to understand the interim steps that the court has directed to be taken and are not be reliant on staff to ensure a translation is provided. Accessing translation services is costly and the Legal Aid Agency only provide limited funding for such translation services, if at all, if a respondent does not have access to Legal Aid due to their status.
Locally here in Plymouth, the theme of our International Women’s Day event was ‘equity not just equality’. This Judgment goes a long way towards this being achieved in domestic abuse cases where women have had to flee their abusers.
This Judgement clarifies the steps which should be taken by applicant when making emergency applications to the Family Court and service of Orders. This Judgment will be further updated once the Rule Committee have sat to consider the recommendations and implications.
In the meantime, I am sure that refuge staff will breathe a sign of relief that clarity has finally arrived, and guidance and training can now be given to their support workers. This guidance is not just a breath of fresh air for support workers but clarity for lawyers as well.
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