Diary of a legal aid lawyer

Diary of a Legal Aid Lawyer: Refuges

Clarity – and some relief – for residents and staff of refuges

Anyone who has worked in the area of domestic abuse for any length of time will be relieved at the sensible and well thought through judgment of Sir Andrew McFarlane in Re P (Service on Parents in a Refuge) [2023] EWHC 471 (Fam) Re P judgment (judiciary.uk).

The situation set out within the case is one which is all too familiar to those of us dealing with issues of domestic abuse where our clients are seeking protection from the court on an emergency basis. As lawyers, 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 the victim or the perpetrator is, even if the classification were so simple.

Those who do victim-based work are familiar with the staff members and location of refuges. This puts us in a position of difficulty when we’re instructed to act on behalf of a party who believes that their former partner has fled to a refuge.

Sir Andrew McFarlane’s judgment carefully weighs up 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.

One huge step forward is the representation on behalf of those whose first language is not English, who are unfamiliar with our justice system: the judgement makes it the responsibility of the applicant to ensure that any documents served are translated into the respondent’s first language as well as English. This is long overdue and very much welcomed. Accessing translation services is costly and the LAA only provides limited funding for such services, if at all, assuming a respondent has access to legal aid in the first place. Now individuals being served with orders can immediately begin to understand the interim steps that the court has directed to be taken and not be reliant on refuge staff to ensure a translation is provided.

The judgement helps to clarify the steps that need to be taken by applicant when making emergency applications to the family court and service of orders and 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, meaning that the correct guidance and training can now be given to their support workers. It’s not just a breath of fresh air for support workers but for lawyers as well.

Alexandra Boardman, Associate Chartered Legal Executive, The Family Law Company

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