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McFarlane considers best practice when servicing a parent in refuge

President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane has considered the practice that should be adopted when court orders need to be served upon a parent residing in refuge.

The need for guidance stems from the tension between the need for the court orders to be served and the need to ensure confidentiality of the address of a refugee for their protection, something which McFarlane noted is not expressly provided for within the Family Procedure Rules (FPR) 2010.

Preliminary guidance, which was included within McFarlane’s judgment in Re P (Service on a Parent in Refuge), is as follows:

Pending more detailed consideration by the Family Procedure Rule Committee, the following guidance should be applied when court orders and other documents must be served on an individual who is thought to be residing in a refuge.

  1. Where a person to be served is thought to be residing in a refuge, the court should only require personal service at the address of the refuge in circumstances which are truly exceptional and urgent.
  2. In all other cases, an alternative means of service, as sanctioned by FPR 2010, Part 6, should be used. Such alternative means include:
    1. personal service at an alternative location;
    2. service on the party’s legal representative;
    3. service via post at a PO Box or office address provided by the refuge for this purpose;
    4. service via email and/or text and/or WhatsApp or other electronic messaging service in circumstances where the resident is known to use these means of communication;
    5. service by post via a third party whom the court is confident will provide the resident of the refuge with the documents.
  3. When service is to be via post at a PO Box or office address provided by the refuge for this purpose, the CEO or director of the refuge should be required to confirm that any material thus served will be promptly brought to the attention of the person to be served.
  4. When considering arrangements for service on a person who is residing at a refuge, the court should at all times be mindful of its duty under DAA 2021, s 63 and FPR, Part 3A and PD3AA to make participation directions with respect to an individual who is, or is at risk of being, a victim of domestic abuse;
  5. When considering arrangements for service on a person who is residing at a refuge who is a migrant woman, the court should pay additional attention to the need to ensure that any court orders are appropriately translated.
  6. The alleged perpetrator or their representative must never, themselves, personally serve a resident at a refuge.
  7. Where, because of the exceptional and urgent nature of the circumstances, it is considered necessary for the court to order personal service of court documents on a resident at a refuge, the court must be alive to the factors set out at paragraph 34 above and should consider contacting the CEO or the director of the refuge to make appropriate arrangements.
  8. Where personal service is to be made at a refuge, it should be undertaken by a court bailiff or the Tipstaff and, where possible, using female officers in plain clothing.
  9. The address of a refuge must never to be disclosed to the alleged perpetrator or to their solicitor, even if an undertaking is offered.
  10. Any formal contact with a refuge, and any orders requiring information, should engage with the CEO or director of the refuge. It will never be appropriate for individual refuge staff members to be required by court order to disclose confidential information.

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