Judge moves to protect women in refuges involved in family court disputes

A senior judge has issued guidance aimed at protecting women living in refuges who become involved in family court litigation.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the Family Division of the High Court, offered advice to judges and lawyers after an organisation running a number of refuges warned that the addresses of alleged abuse victims could be inadvertently revealed when court orders were served.

A lawyer representing the organisation had said, at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court last year, that the problem was a “matter of public importance”.

Sir Andrew, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales, has issued guidance about serving court orders in a ruling on a case in which a woman living in a refuge, who was involved in litigation with an ex-partner centred on a child, was feared to be at risk.

He said if someone was thought to be living in a refuge, a judge should only “require personal service” at the refuge address in “exceptional and urgent” circumstances.

The judge said the address of a refuge must “never to be disclosed to the alleged perpetrator or to their solicitor”.

Another judge had initially considered issues relating to women in refuges at a hearing in August.

Barrister Charlotte Proudman, who represented the organisation which runs refuges, had told Mr Justice Knowles guidance would help.

“Refuges have no legal support and advice in a context where their paramount concern is to keep victims of domestic abuse safe, and this involves never disclosing their residential addresses which could easily become publicly known,” Dr Proudman had told Mrs Justice Knowles.

“When addresses enter the public sphere, the refuge needs to close down and relocate at a significant financial cost.”