A recent precedent set by the High Court has confirmed that magistrates have the power necessary to issue warrants for the arrest of parents suspected of defaulting on their maintenance obligations.
The latest High Court ruling concerned a Polish Couple, the father of which had been ordered by a family court in Poland to pay maintenance for an unspecified number of children in 2009.
In 2014, the mother of the children, having learned that the father ‘Mr K’ had travelled to England, applied to the Polish authorities for enforcement of the maintenance award in the UK under EU Regulation 4/2009.
The claim was then transferred to the Family Court in Manchester by the Reciprocal Enforcement of Maintenance Obligations (REMO) Unit in the Office of the Official Solicitor, as they suspected he was resident in the city.
Despite numerous attempts to formally ‘serve him’ with court papers, the claim could not be served and so the magistrates handling the case sought clarification of their authority from the Family Court to see whether they would be able to issue a warrant for the father’s arrest if efforts to serve him continued to prove futile.
As a result of their query, 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.
In his response, Sir Peter said that magistrates could indeed compel the attendance 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,” added Sir Peter.
This ruling has clarified a long-standing point in the Family Courts and effectively grants magistrates the power to issue a warrant of arrest against long-standing maintenance defaulters.
It will be interesting to see in the fullness of time with Brexit fast approaching how such issues will be managed in the future.