Magistrates can issue warrants for the arrest of parents suspected for defaulting on their maintenance obligations, a High Court Judge has concluded.
The case concerned a former Polish couple. In 2009 the father had been ordered by a family court in that country to pay maintenance for an unspecified number of children. He did not do so. By 2014, still in pursuit of child support, the mother had become convinced that the father, ‘Mr K’, had travelled to England. She therefore applied to the Polish authorities for enforcement of the maintenance award in the UK, under EU Regulation 4/2009. This governs “the jurisdiction, applicable law, recognition and enforcement of decisions and cooperation in matters relating to maintenance obligations”.
The Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Obligations (REMO) Unit in the Office of the Official Solicitor transferred the claim to the Family Court in Manchester, where it was suspected that the father was living.
However, extensive efforts to formally ‘serve him’ with court papers have been unsucessful to date, explained Mr Justice Peter Jackson.
“Notices have been left at his address, but personal service has not yet been achieved [court officials have been unable the deliver notice of the proceedings to him].”
While this process continued, the magistrates handling the case sought clarification of their authority from the family court. They wanted to know whether they would be able to issue a warrant for the father’s arrest if efforts to serve him proved futile.
In a concise judgement, Mr Justice Peter Jackson concluded that they would have the jurisdiction to do so, under Section 31 of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. This states that
“(1) In any proceedings in the Family Court, the court may make any order-
a) which could be made by the High Court if the proceedings were in the High Court, or
b) which could be made by the county court if the proceedings were in the county court”
This meant, said Sir Peter, that magistrates could indeed compel the attence of people alleged to have defaulted on their maintenance payments.
“This conclusion harmonises with the reality. Magistrates are full judges of the Family Court, performing an indispensable role, and their powers are subject only to the distribution of cases …. Their ability to carry out their work effectively would be stultified if they lacked the power to enforce their own orders for a party to attend before them.”
The full ruling can be read here.