Lawrence Stephens

We are a *knowledge business

Court servings and human rights: a UK/US comparison

May 2022

Olivia Wilde’s court serving could have breached human rights conventions in the UK

Whilst possibly entertaining, the service of US custody papers (known as child arrangement order in the UK) to Olivia Wilde onstage at CinemaCon, was a shocking and intrusive way to serve legal papers. Indeed, if Ms Wilde was served in this manner in the UK, it would likely be a breach of her basic human rights and confidentiality.

Whilst there are considerable differences in the UK and US regarding the rules relating to service of court documents it is clear that the interest of the individual is far more protected in the UK. For instance, in the UK the service process is governed by The Family Procedure Rules 2010 (FPR) which maintains that, service should be affected either through personal service, first class post, or email service. Even if service is to be carried out personally, it would require an appointment to be made with the person to be served and arrangements agreed in advance for the acceptance of papers to avoid the situation Ms Wilde found herself in.  This is a far cry from the situation (especially in the presence of the press) Ms Wilde, found herself in when she was handed the court papers marked “private and confidential”.

In the United States, court papers must be served personally but there are no strict guidelines as to how the service can take place save that they are not allowed onto private property to affect service.  Whilst the manner in which Ms Wilde was served with the court papers is not illegal, the papers could have been served in a more humane and appropriate manner to protect not only her rights of privacy but those of her children.

US Family law attorney David Glass commented that it’s “highly unlikely” that Jason Sudeikis had no knowledge that the documents would be served in the way it had been as “you’re obligated as an attorney to share most things that you’re doing with your client”. The same applies in the UK. Solicitors would instruct when and where to serve the court documents following consultation with their client. We would expect a solicitor to advise their client that the documents should not be served in this public manner. The papers were clearly marked ‘private and confidential’ and were in clear sight of the press and their high-tech cameras which could have conceivably captured the confidential information contained within the papers.

The question is whether service of Court documents in such a public manner in the UK would have amounted to a breach Article 8 rights. to respect for private and family life. It can be argued that the serving of personal documents in such a way did amount to a breach of the Article 8 rights leading to a claim for compensation and damages, The couple share two children who are at school and their right of privacy over their own child arrangement order must be respected.

Additionally, court proceedings in the UK are subject to confidentiality especially when minor children are involved. Indeed, the names of the children are anonymised when cases are reported and reporting on cases disclosing the identity of the children would amount to an contempt of court and could lead to imprisonment.