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CHILD SUPPORT: Farley v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (No 2) [2006] UKHL 31

Date:28 JUN 2006

(House of Lords; Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead, Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Hutton, Lord Walker of Gestingthorpe and Lord Mance; 28 June 2006) [2006] The Times, June 29

On an application for a liability order, the magistrates' court must proceed on the basis that the maintenance assessment in question was lawfully and properly made. The court was precluded from questioning that assessment or any aspect of it. The magistrates' court's function was to check that the assessment related to the defendant brought before the court and that the payments in question had become payable yet had not been paid. Given the provisions in the Child Support Act 1991 (the 1991 Act) which provided an effective means by which an absent parent could challenge the Secretary of State's jurisdiction to make a maintenance assessment, there was no justification for reading s 33 of the 1991 Act as requiring or permitting the magistrates' court to entertain such a challenge. When faced with an application for a liability order where an appeal was pending against the validity of the underlying maintenance calculation, magistrates should consider whether it was oppressive to make a liability order and, under s 54 of the Magistrates' Courts Act 1980, if they concluded that it was, should adjourn the hearing pending the outcome of the appeal or for such shorter period and on such terms as might be just.