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With the profoundest respect

 

Firstly, apologies. I know that to lawyers, using that title is the equivalent of me going into a Wetherspoons pub, finding the drunkest person there, giving them a lot of amphetamines and telling them that (a) you were the person who stole their wife back in 1984 and (b) that they should go around your house and shout what they think of you through your letterbox.

 

Non-lawyers may not be aware of the lawyer code which is “with respect” = You absolute moron, you’re wrong.  “with great respect”  = ffs do you have anything between your ears, you are utterly wrong , “with the greatest possible respect”  -  I am going to have to get Malcolm Tucker to concoct a sentence which truly construes how annoyed I am with you and how wrong you are.  I honestly didn’t even know it went up as high as “with the profoundest respect”

 

So why am I dropping the P-R bomb on y’all?  Well, because that phrase appears in a judgment, and it is used by a High Court Judge, and he is using it about the Court of Appeal.

 

The Judge is Mostyn J (who has had a busy autumn), and the case is Re D 2014  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/3388.html

 

I wrote about Mostyn’s initial decision here http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/01/08/brussels-sprouts-ii-this-time-its-jurisdictional/

I’ve written about the particular Court of Appeal decision here (and you can see that I may have been somewhat bored by it, because a lot of it ends up being co-written by Snoop Doggy Dogg – apposite given post 500)

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/02/21/and-i-aint-talking-bout-chicken-and-gravy/

 

The gist of it, very quickly.

The father in the case was found to present a massive risk to children. I don’t think anyone (even Ian from Forced Adoption) could dispute that he would be a bad person to be around children. The real meat of the case was whether mother could separate from him and stay away from him.

The background this case is to be found in my fact finding judgment of 30 November 2012 to be found in section A at page 53. I do not repeat it here. Suffice to say that I found the father, Stefan D, to be guilty of truly bestial conduct. I recorded his conviction in the year 2000 in the Czech Republic of offences of the utmost seriousness involving the gross abuse and exploitation of women and girls. I found how, after his arrival in the UK, he meted out appalling domestic violence to his wife, Daniella D. I found how he engaged in serious criminal activity, largely centred around illegal drugs. I described how I was satisfied that he had seduced his 16 year old stepdaughter by plying her with drugs; how he had had unprotected sex with her; and how she became pregnant by September 2011 when she was only 17 years of age. I recorded how this sexual congress took place in the family home to the knowledge of the other minor children there, B and K. I recorded how he was even having sexual intercourse in the same time-frame with his wife as he was with his stepdaughter. I found that the statutory threshold in section 31 of the Children Act had been comprehensively crossed, both in respect of past harm and the risk of future harm.

Care proceedings, mum and dad were both Czech, and had gone back to live in the Czech Republic. The baby was in care in England and the care plan of the Local Authority, shared by the Guardian was for adoption.  Mostyn J had to decide a Brussels II application, and in doing so, he raised an important philosophical question – if the outcome of the case would be radically different in another country (because England has non-consensual / forced adoption and the Czech Republic does not) should that be taken into account? Mostyn J did take it into account and decided that the case (and future of the child) ought to be transferred to the Czech Republic.

 

That was appealed, and the Court of Appeal in Re M (A child) 2014  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/152.html decided that Mostyn J was wrong, that you decide Brussels II on the facts of the case and you give no regard at all to how another jurisdiction might decide the case.

Here are the 3 questions to be answered

” … as Art 15(1) makes clear there are three questions to be considered by the court – here The Hague court – in deciding whether to exercise its powers under Art 15(1):

i) First, it must determine whether the child has, within the meaning of Art 15(3), ‘a particular connection’ with the relevant other member state – here, the UK. Given the various matters set out in Art 15(3) as bearing on this question, this is, in essence, a simple question of fact. For example, is the other member state the former habitual residence of the child (see Art 15(3) (b)) or the place of the child’s nationality (see Art 15(3) (c))?

ii) Secondly, it must determine whether the court of that other member state ‘would be better placed to hear the case, or a specific part thereof’. This involves an exercise in evaluation, to be undertaken in the light of all the circumstances of the particular case.

iii) Thirdly, it must determine if a transfer to the other court ‘is in the best interests of the child.’ This again involves an evaluation undertaken in the light of all the circumstances of the particular child.”

 

I wish to emphasise that the question of whether the other court will have available to it the full list of options available to the English court – for example, the ability to order a non-consensual adoption – is simply not relevant to either the second or the third question. As Ryder LJ has explained, by reference to the decisions of the Supreme Court in Re I and of this court in Re K, the question asked by Article 15 is whether it is in the child’s best interests for the case to be determined in another jurisdiction, and that is quite different from the substantive question in the proceedings, “what outcome to these proceedings will be in the best interests of the child?”

 

 

So they told Mostyn J that the English Court would decide the case, overturned his decision and sent it back to him for determination.

 

I have never had the experience of going back into a case where the Court of Appeal have told the Judge he was wrong and then gave him the case back – it must be a somewhat trying situation. We now see from Re D, just how exasperating a Judge might find that experience.

 

[In the interests of fairness, I'll throw my hat in the ring - I think Mostyn J first time got the right decision for the wrong reasons, and I think that the Court of Appeal had the right reasoning but reached the wrong decision, so I can see why there's some rancour there.  ]

 

What follows is all genuinely from Re D (at least all the stuff in bold – a Judge thought of this, wrote it down and published it. For real – underlining is by me, for emphasis)

 

 

  • The reason I am conducting this hearing today in September 2014 is because I have been ordered to do so by the Court of Appeal. My decision of 18 December 2013 was that a Czech court would be better placed to hear this case and in consequence of that decision I issued a formal request under Article 15 of Brussels II Revised Council Regulation No 2201/2003. That formal request sought the agreement of the Czech court to hear this case to its conclusion. My decision of 18 December 2013 was overturned by the Court of Appeal on 21 February 2014 and that is to be found in section A, page 167.
  • It is necessary for me to make reference to aspects of the judgments of the Court of Appeal, if only to clarify matters. The Court of Appeal decided that my decision was flawed as I had allowed the consideration of ED’s Czech nationality to dominate my thinking to the exclusion of any proper consideration of the second and third questions formulated in AB v JLB [2009] 1 FLR 517 (see paragraph 45 of Lord Justice Ryder’s judgment). It was said by him at paragraph 31 of his judgment that the practical considerations which I had identified at paragraph 40 of my judgment of 18 December 2013 were equally matched by the merit of judicial continuity. Notwithstanding that equal balance which I had ultimately decided in favour of a transfer request, Lord Justice Ryder held at paragraph 46 that the issue should have been decided in favour of a continuance of the case here. In his judgment Lord Justice Lewison suggested that in making my decision I had given expression to some kind of secret agenda or inherent hostility to the making of a care order with an adoption plan.
  • In my defence I would say this:

 

(1) If in fact I gave too much weight to the matter of nationality as a connecting factor under the first question it cannot be disputed that it certainly had to be given some weight. However, the Court of Appeal decision affords this factor no weight at all. Instead it merely balances the factor of judicial continuity with the practical considerations and, notwithstanding that they were found to be evenly balanced, my decision to seek a transfer was overturned. This is very hard to follow.

(2) I certainly, in my paragraph 29, was not operating any kind of secret agenda but was merely emphasising the draconian and momentous nature of care and placement orders and faithfully recording and following the views of the senior judiciary in Re B [2004] 2 FLR 142 at paragraph 101, per Mr Justice Munby (as he then was); Re B [2013] 1 WLR 1911, a decision of the Supreme Court; and Re B-S (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1146, a decision of the Court of Appeal.

(3) The conduct of this trial has shown how the Court of Appeal’s perception of an equal balance of judicial continuity and practical considerations was, with the profoundest of respect to them, wrong. No material from the fact finding hearing has featured in this case other than my judgment. My judgment has been treated as the alpha to omega of the past proceedings. Unquestionably another judge could have conducted this hearing in exactly the same way that I did. I did not reach for any unwritten nuances or impressions as referred to by Lord Justice Ryder at paragraph 27. In my previous judgment I stated that the advantage of me conducting the hearing would be marginal. With the benefit of actual experience I would say that I have had no such advantage. By contrast, even though Lord Justice Ryder thought in his final sentence of paragraph 31 that, “In a world where the use of information technology is a commonplace the physical location of a professional witness is rarely likely to be decisive” the experience of this case showed that this too was a misplaced view.

 

 

The technology all broke down (I have sad real-life experience of how awful it can be to be involved in video-link evidence overseas, and it is like the course of true love in that it never runs smoothly)

 

The video link to the Czech Republic frequently froze visually leaving me only with sound. I lost the chance in this case in respect of the three crucial witnesses from the Czech Republic to assess their demeanour. All the vital evidence from the Czech Republic had to be professionally translated. The translator gave a heroic performance but the exercise was completely unsatisfactory leaving me again unable, because of translation, to judge these important witnesses’ demeanour. The father also gave his evidence by video link or for much of the time only by audio link, again translated. It was very difficult for me to judge him in the way that I am required to do so.

 

 

  • In my judgment of 18 December 2013 I said at paragraph 40 (this is page A165, the final two sentences):

 

“But beyond these lofty expressions of principle are the simple practical facts that the parents are in the Czech Republic. Baby LD is in the Czech Republic and any proceedings in the Czech Republic will be conducted in the first language of the parents.”

Those practical facts loomed very large in the hearing before me. Those practical facts, or rather my inability to give expression to those practical facts, impeded the trial significantly. Notwithstanding that I had been found by the Court of Appeal to have erred, I am convinced that this case was at all times better tried in the Czech Republic. And had it been tried in the Czech Republic then no placement order, as contended for by the Local Authority and supported by the guardian, could have been made, as that order, in common with almost all other countries in the EU, with the exception of Ireland and Croatia, is beyond the powers of the court in the absence of parental consent.

 

 

The Judge discusses the expert witnesses from the Czech Republic who gave evidence via this flawed video-link. When you see that one of them said in writing that the mother could ‘definitely’ protect the child, you might have your antennae for “you’re going to collapse in cross-exam” twitching, and you’d be right

 

 

  • The next three witnesses were taken over the often malfunctioning video from the Czech Republic and they were the psychotherapist, Leona Hozova, the father and the social worker, Pavla Polakova. I will take the two professional witnesses first. Their written material was laconic indeed but it is not for me to criticise what may well be the usual practice for making professional reports in the Czech Republic. If it is the usual practice then as one who has to read these reports I can see a lot to commend it. Leona Hozova, a psychotherapist employed by the Domino Organisation, a well-known organisation in the Czech Republic, has provided three short statements at section C159, 193 and 195. I quote from the most recent dated 29 May 2014. It is so short that I can read it in full:

 

“From a position of a psychotherapist working with the family, I can respond within my competence as follows:

Ms M, dob 23.04.1994, is capable of recognising a danger and she is definitely able to protect her children, in this case her son ED, dob 27.06.2012. Ms M is an exemplary and loving mother. She is able to bring children up and to create them a relationship in harmony. From an attachment point of view, she is able to create safe and strong bond between her and her children. In a case of any possible danger she would be the first one to protect and defend her children.

At this time Ms M exhausted from the whole situation, psychologically very tired. This whole situation is very difficult for her and her family. Despite this she is still able to function as a mother without any problems and to carry out her child’s needs. During our consultations with Ms M we do not only talk about her psychological state, but we work together on developing her parental competency and smooth care of her child.

As a family psychotherapist I do not find any reasons to take Ms M’s child away, she is a caring and loving mother.

In terms of the psychological help which I am providing to the parents, so far I did not find any pathological elements in the behaviour of the father of Stefan D, dob 25.10.1972. Mr D is able to look after the daughter LD, dob 13.09.2013, without any problems and with love even at times when Ms M is away in England. Mr D is psychologically very broken from the whole situation, delaying of the whole matter has broken him psychologically. As a psychotherapist I can not express my opinion regarding his personal life and his actions at the time before our psychotherapeutic sessions.

Recommendation:

I recommend ED to be returned to his parents.

If it was not possible due to some particular reasons, then I recommend to place ED to foster care in the Czech Republic into a foster family who is experienced with foster care and who would live near to the parents, the reason is the most effective complying with ED’s needs and to enable ED’s contact with his biological parents.

I recommend to continue in regular psychotherapeutic consultations with the parents (both individual and in pair) and in strengthening their parental competence, further on in company of a family advisor who mainly focus in children in the family and in their care.

This opinion has been given on request of the High Court in London, England.”

 

  • In her oral evidence she confirmed that the mother and father had punctiliously attended all psychotherapeutic appointments. However, under cross-examination and significantly she accepted that she was not convinced, notwithstanding the mother’s assertions, that she would in fact ever leave the father, notwithstanding that in her assessment the mother was full of love and was a very careful mother to baby LD. She was satisfied that the mother authentically loved the father but she was of the view that that love was a search by the mother for a substitute father figure, a substitute for the father who abandoned her when she was a young child. She confirmed that she had spoken to both parents about the findings made by me in my fact finding judgment of 30 November 2012 but the father had told her unambiguously that they were not true. He told her that he rejects my findings of domestic violence meted out to his wife, Daniella D, although, in contrast to what he told me at the fact finding hearing, he accepted that he was actually and properly guilty of the criminal offences in respect of which he was sentenced in the Czech Republic in the year 2000. Similarly, but not nearly to the same extent, the mother told her, the psychotherapist, that she did not accept my detailed findings in which the relationship was begun and conducted.
  • Miss Hozova told me that in the Czech Republic there would be available foster parents who could look after ED and that such foster parents had full experience of caring for Roma children. Under cross-examination she accepted that she had tried hard to open up the topic of the father’s past conduct as found by me but that he simply would not co-operate. In a very significant statement for my purposes she stated whilst being cross-examined:

 

“For as long as he does not accept the findings there are considerable risks in placing ED with him and the mother.”

 

 

The Judge weighed up the evidence very carefully and rejected the proposals made by both sides (the mother seeking return of the child, the LA and Guardian seeking adoption)

 

 

  • These are my conclusions. First, I reject the proposal by the mother that these proceedings be dismissed and ED be returned to her and the father in the Czech Republic. That is manifestly not in his interests. Such a placement back with his parents would be replete with far too many risks in circumstances where the father categorically rejects the majority of the previous findings made in this case. He plainly cannot confront his demons until he has identified his demons. The same is true to a lesser extent in relation to the mother. If these parents were living here it is inconceivable that ED would be returned to them. That they are in the Czech Republic surely makes no difference. If a corollary of this finding by me is that I must conclude that baby LD should not be with her parents while deep professional work is done the first base of which is a full acceptance of the wrongdoing the father has done both to Daniella and to the mother, then I do not shrink from expressing that corollary.
  • I now turn to the choice urged on me by the Local Authority and supported by the guardian. In Re B-S at paragraph 19 the President, Sir James Munby, stated:

 

“It is to be remembered, as Baroness Hale pointed out in Down Lisburn Health and Social Services Trust and Another v H and Another [2006] UKHL 36 at paragraph 34 that the United Kingdom is unusual in Europe in permitting the total severance of family ties without parental consent.”

 

  • In this case Janet Kavanagh in her second statement dated 14 June 2013 has adduced certain research extolling the merits of adoption. At paragraph 22 she said this:

 

“The benefits of successful adoptions are well-evidenced: the overview of evidence research by Coram and Barnados (Exhibit 2) shows adopted children have good psychological outcomes and more stable placements than children brought up in care. “Adoption by contrast (with long-term fostering) is associated with lower disruption rates and placement stability confers a reduction of problems over time and growth of attachment” (Social Care Institute for Excellence in their scoping review of research of looked after children, Exhibit 3). Moreover the Adoption Research Institute (Exhibit 1) goes so far as to state that said that, ‘Adoption should be considered for every child who can not return home’.”

 

  • The proposition of the merits of adoption is advanced almost as a truism but if it is a truism it is interesting to speculate why only three out of 28 European Union countries allow forced or non-consensual adoption. One might ask: why are we so out of step with the rest of Europe? One might have thought if it was obvious that forced adoption was the gold standard the rest of Europe would have hastened to have adopted it. The relevance of this aspect of the case is surely obvious. This case, as I have demonstrated, could very easily have been tried in the Czech Republic. It was a fortuity that it was not. Had it been so tried there the orders sought by the Local Authority could not have been made. I accept, of course, that I must apply the law of England exclusively but in so doing the unique irrevocability of the orders sought has to play a prominent part in my judgment.
  • Therefore I turn to the two intermediate choices and ask myself if either of them will “do.” Only if neither will “do” will it be appropriate to make the order sought by the Local Authority. In my judgment a special guardianship order in favour of the current foster parents would be the preferred solution. I will not spring such an order on them or on any of the parties here pursuant to the Children Act 1989 section 14A(6)(b) and I cannot in fact envisage such an order being made of the court’s own motion other than by consent. Only if the foster parents apply for a special guardianship order will such an order be made. I invite them to decide within 14 days of today if they will apply for a special guardianship order. If they do I urge them to apply promptly so that a report under section 14A(8) can be prepared.

 

[You may remember the Court of Appeal case I recently discussed where the foster carers WERE putting themselves forward and the Court of Appeal said the Judge was not wrong to reject them - here they weren't, but the Judge was trying to persuade them to do so]

 

I think that this is an important case – not for setting precedent – this won’t be relied upon in other cases and if it was attempted to be, I am confident that the Court of Appeal would have little hestitation in correcting Mostyn’s views here. But it frames an important philosophical debate – do the Court of Appeal really mean ‘nothing else will do”  – or do they mean “the other options must be considered and if adoption is the decision the Court must explain why they have been rejected”  – and Mostyn J raises the other major issue – are WE right in allowing forced adoption (together with two other countries in the EU, or are the other 25 countries right to have rejected it?

How long will it be before this is litigated, at length in the ECHR?  Y v UK set down the marker that Re B  and then Re B-S followed  [some observers, myself included think that 'nothing else will do' was an attempt to get English adoption law back in line with the ECHR view of it], but has there actually been a sea-change in the sort of cases that warrant adoption or have we all just swapped one set of ‘judicial window-dressing’  (draconian order) for a fresher one ‘nothing else will do’ ?

 

I have to say that it feels sometimes on the ground that we have just swapped our incantations for a newer form of words, rather than the radical re-think on adoption that Re B-S looked like a year ago.

 

What was Mostyn J’s plan if the current carers did not offer themselves up as Special Guardians? Well, here’s where it gets interesting. And remember, the Court of Appeal had said no to transferring this case to the Czech Republic under Brussels II.

 

If the foster parents do not signify that they will seek a special guardianship order I then will turn to consider the choice of a placement with Czech foster parents. If I were to do this it could not be under a care order. It is trite law confirmed by a decision of the House of Lords that once a care order is made all subsequent decisions concerning placement of the child are delegated to the Local Authority without interference from the court. The only role the court has thereafter is in relation to contact. Therefore if I were to go down this route it would have to be outside the care proceedings; those proceedings would have to come to an end and wardship proceedings would have to be commenced. The order placing ED with Czech foster parents would be a judgment made in wardship proceedings and such a judgment would be enforceable under Articles 21 and 23 of Brussels II Revised and under Article 23 of the 1996 Hague Convention. However, the judgment could only be enforced in the Czech Republic provided that Article 56 had been complied with (see Article 23(g) of Brussels II Revised).

 

I.e, I’ll make a wardship order and place the children in foster care in the Czech Republic.

 

The LA and Guardian expressed some doubts on that, given that the agencies of the Czech Republic had been leaning more towards rehab to mother’s care.

 

 

  • If therefore there is no signification by the foster parents to seek a special guardianship order within 14 days I direct that the central authority, OILPC, be notified that this court is contemplating a placement of ED with Czech foster parents and ask them to set in train the identification of such foster parents in accordance with the terms of the letter which I have just read out. If foster parents have been identified by the Czech central authority pursuant to the procedure set out by 1st November 2014 the matter must be restored to me to consider the suitability of those foster parents. If they are suitable then I will make the order in wardship that ED be placed with those foster parents and such an order and judgment will explicitly provide that the question of contact or indeed discharge from foster care will be made by the Czech court.
  • In principle I consider that foster care in the Czech Republic is a preferable solution to the irrevocability of a care order and placement order although, in my judgment, it is not as preferable as a special guardianship order. My reason is that in this case the ethnicity factor and parental link I regard of critical importance and which must have the capacity of being preserved and should not be irrevocably severed on the facts of this case. I reject the argument made for the Local Authority by Mrs Rowley, and by Mr Veitch for the guardian, that this solution is replete with risks because the Czech court might return ED to his parents. If I might respectfully say so it is a highly chauvinistic, almost neo-colonial sentiment. If the Czech court does return ED to his parents it will be after a full hearing with the child represented by a guardian. Plainly there can be no serious suggestion made that the Czech court would not, in any hearing, properly promote the interests of ED. Only if both of these intermediate choices prove to be impossible will I be satisfied that nothing else will do and in those circumstances I would make on the evidence the care order and placement order.
  • I accept entirely that the solution I have proposed and which I order will involve further delay in achieving finality for ED. I accept that the avoidance of delay is an almost canonical prescription in this kind of proceedings. However, bearing in mind that I am making arrangements which will affect the whole of ED’s life I do not believe that the most profound consequences of that decision should be sacrificed on the altar of the avoidance of delay.

 

So, to suggest that the Czech authorities might return the child to mother’s care is highly chauvinistic and almost neo-colonial…

 

Let’s see what the Czech authorities had to say (AFTER the judgment was handed down. Again underlining mine for emphasis)

 

 

  • On 29 September 2014 this court received a letter dated 23 September 2014 from Mr Zdeněk Kapitán, the Direct of OILPC. This was written and received well after I had orally given judgment. The letter reads as follows:

 

“The Office for International Legal Protection of Children, as the Central Authority of the Czech Republic under the Council Regulation (EC) No 2201 /2003 of 27 November 2003 concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility, repealing Regulation (EC) No 1347/2000 hereby states its position regarding the case of the child mentioned above.According to the information available to the Office, the child is currently removed from the care of his parents and is placed in the foster care.

As our Office is highly concerned about the best interest of the minor who is the Czech national we respectfully ask the Court to consider, while deciding in the Care Order proceedings the following rights of the Child arising from the international conventions named below that are binding for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Firstly, the Office would like to point out at the Article 8 of European Convention of Human Rights that regulates the right to respect for private and family life, the Office hereby highlights the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter “ECHR’) in respect of the Article 8 of the Convention. In particular the ECHR constantly rules that “the fact that a child could be placed In a more beneficial environment for his or her upbringing will not on its own justify a compulsory measure of removal from the care of the biological parents, there must exist other circumstances pointing to the effective ‘necessity’ for such an interference with the parents’ right under Article 8 of the Convention to enjoy a family life with the child” (T v FINLAND, § 173)

Furthermore, the ECHR declared that “although the essential object of Article 8 is to protect the individual against arbitrary action by the public authorities, there may jn addition be positive obligations inherent in an effective ‘respect’ for family life. Thus. where the existence of a family tie has been established, the State must in principle act in the manner calculated to enable that tie to be developed and take measures that will enable parent and child to be reunited” (KUTZNER v. GERMANY. § 61).

Secondly, the Office draws the attention of the Court to the Article 8 and Article 9 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child under which the States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her family relations and shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will unless the certain conditions are met.

Finally, the Office understands that the habitual residence of the above child is in the territory of the United Kingdom and that the Court shall have the jurisdiction in the matter. Nevertheless if the Court considers that it is in the best interest of the child to proceed under the Article 15 and/ or the Article 56 of the Regulation, the Office supports such proceedings and is very open to offer the Court its further assistance in proceedings under the Article 15 and / or the Article 56 of the Regulation.

In conclusion, the Office appeals to the Court to take into consideration the aforesaid and not to interfere with the right to respect for family life unless it is necessary and justifiable.

This statement is to emphasize the importance and priority of the work with the biological family over the very extreme measure of separating the child from his parents and placing him into foster care. Accordingly, we are of the opinion that in case the parents are not able to take care of the child, the members of wider family should be always considered as potential carers.”

 

I might be highly chauvinistic and almost neo-colonial, but I read that as the Czech authorities dropping a pretty big hint that if the child is in their control, they view foster care as the last resort and a very extreme measure.

 

Now, one could of course argue – this is a Czech mother, a Czech father, a Czech baby – let the Czech Republic get on with it and make their own decisions, it is really their baby to make decisions about.  Except… that’s exactly what Mostyn J decided first time out and the Court of Appeal rejected that.

 

We don’t know yet what has actually happened. Here is my guess – either the LA and the Guardian began drawing up an appeal claim straight away OR a lot of pressure was put on the current foster carers to take up the offer of Special Guardianship to avoid further ligitation.

 

I’m not a huge fan of how Mostyn J has necessarily gone about this, but it is a real practical issue on the ground – we are having more and more babies in England and Wales whose parents are from other parts of the EU, those countries being ones who don’t have non-consensual adoption – should we be spending huge amounts of taxpayers money litigating these cases in England, or should the decisions about the children be taken in the parents country of origin?   (It gets ludicrously tricky if mum and dad are from different countries within the EU, of course)

 

The ECHR’s already tough line on non-consensual adoption was in a case where the UK was making decisions about the children of its own citizens – might they take an even tougher line when the first case of a foreign national’s children goes before the ECHR?  The Italian C-section case drew a lot of overseas attention – and if we have 3 countries within the EU who support non-consensual adoption and 25 who don’t, the UK government may not be preaching to the converted if a case of that kind comes up before the ECHR.

 

 

Relinquishing for adoption and nothing else will do

This is a High Court case, decided in April, but the report of judgment has only recently come out. I’m grateful to Celtic Knot for ensuring that it came to my attention
I touched on the (at that time unresolved) issue of whether the raft of jurisprudence on ‘non-consensual adoptions’ also applied to step-parent adoptions and relinquished babies where the mother was giving the child up for adoption but the father was not identified/told.

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/04/12/step-parent-adoption-telling-the-birth-father/

and this High Court case Coventry City Council and A 2014 deals with the relinquished adoption issue (and my next blog post will deal with the Court of Appeal’s decision on step-parent adoptions)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/2033.html

If you want the Too Long; Didn’t Read version – it is that I would be very cautious about relinquished adoptions particularly if there is any international element. If either parent is from another EU country, I would strongly urge you to read the judgment in Coventry CC and A. I suspect that it will make ‘relinquished adoptions’ considerably more protracted, complicated and expensive.
This case took nearly a year to resolve (with a baby that mother wanted to give up for adoption – so twice as long as fully contested care proceedings are intended to take)

Part of the reason why is that the mother was Romanian, and the High Court embarked on a process of notifying the Romanian authorities about the existence of the child and the potential order that would be made in the UK courts.

Let’s look at what mum had to say about her extended family

The hospital was able to contact the mother through her friend, Z, via a mobile phone and a meeting was arranged with the mother to attend the hospital on 7th June. Initially the mother failed to return but, ultimately, after some persuasion, she did so with her friend Z. She was spoken with through an interpreter speaking Romanian. At this meeting she gave her baby a name after some prompting with the social workers and held the baby for the first time showing some emotion in doing so. The mother gave information about her and her baby’s background. She said that the father was Romanian Roma but she was herself Romanian. She refused to provide the father’s name. She said that her family were not aware of her pregnancy. She had not told them about it or her relationship with the father and she had concealed the pregnancy from them. She said that her family would not approve of the relationship with the father as he was Roma and her mother would disown her if she knew. She wanted the baby to be adopted. She intended to return to Romania as soon as possible after she received her new travel documents.

She said she was from a named village in Romania, that she had two other children residing there, a son aged nine and a daughter aged ten and they were being cared for by their maternal grandparents. She had no money to support a baby. She said the father was aware of the pregnancy but was not interested and he was not aware that the baby had been born. She had come here on holiday to see her friend, Z, who came from the same area as the maternal grandparents. She had not told Z about the pregnancy until her waters broke. She said she had no fixed abode, she moved between the homes of various friends and had been evicted the evening before and was at that time staying with a friend of Z.

That seems, to me, to be a very clear message that the mother did not want her relatives approached or told of the existence of the baby.

Unfortunately, mother did not help herself because she didn’t attend the appointment with a CAFCASS officer to sign the adoption forms. Nor did she attend the second such appointment, and then she vanished.

The baby was thus not, in law, relinquished. Mother had agreed to give the baby up for adoption but had not signed the paperwork that would be a vital part of the process. That meant that rather than being a relinquished baby adoption, this had to go into care proceedings.

And, the case having gone into care proceedings, efforts had to be made to find and serve the mother.

[HUGE LESSON here – if you are dealing with a mother who wants to relinquish her baby, it is vital that she is made to understand that not filling out the forms is going to make life much worse for her. Fine to decide ‘I don’t want to sign them because I want the child back’, but ‘I don’t want to sign the forms because I want to stop thinking about this’ is just going to make things much much worse]

It made things much much worse for this mother here, because a process server was sent out to look for her in a Romanian village near Bucharest

The process server met with the mother’s own mother who is Romanian, who told him she is looking after the children at the family home, that the mother was not in Romania, she had left a few months ago to go to the United Kingdom. She said that the family believed she was working as a prostitute in the United Kingdom and recently had had problems and had been in hospital. The process server was unable to gain any further information but was able to say that the address in Coventry, which the mother had given to the local authority, did not exist.
In the second report, dated 30th November, the process server described the village as being small, about 100 kilometres from Bucharest, with “a majority gypsy population very poor and simple peoples.” He met with the mother’s own mother again who was shown a photograph of the mother. Initially she denied recognising the mother but later produced a copy of the mother’s ID card with a photograph of the mother. Whilst there, a niece of the mother identified the photograph as the mother and a sister of the mother did so as well. The grandmother then returned with a copy of the mother’s ID card and was able to confirm that the photograph with the process server was that of the mother. The process server then showed a photograph of the mother to a village policeman who identified it as that of the mother and said that she had been registered as missing but had returned to the address and was declared not missing. It seems he thought that she was probably in the United Kingdom and said that she did not have a relationship with her family. The local authority have been unable to trace the mother and has no information as to the father’s identity or whereabouts.

Remember, of course, that this mother did not want her family to know anything about the baby or to become involved. So that worked out marvellously for her. (I also dread to think how much Coventry had to pay for the Romanian equivalent of Jim Rockford to go out flashing this photograph of the mother around, including showing it to a village policeman)
The final upshot though, was that the mother was not found, and the care case thus proceeded in the absence of the mother, or a father.

What then happened was that the Court caused the Romanian authorities to be informed of the case. It took a while to get any response out of them, but once they started to respond, they got highly responsive, ultimately saying that they wanted the case transferred to Romania and were wholly opposed to a child of Romanian parents to be adopted, even where the mother herself was not opposing it.

 

the Romanian authorities have been informed as to the existence of A and the existence of these proceedings and the care plan for adoption. The care proceedings were issued on 9th August last year and the application for the placement order was on 14th October. These applications were transferred from the Coventry Family Proceedings Court to the Coventry County Court on 18th November 2013 due to the complexity of the international aspects. On 20th November her Honour Judge Watson directed that the Romanian central authority be invited to attend the next hearing on 4th December. On 4th December, although the Romanian central authority had been notified, no representatives attended but on 2nd December the Romanian Directorate for International Law and Judicial Cooperation wrote saying that the correspondence had been forwarded to the child protection directorate and that a response was awaited.
On 4th December Judge Watson invited the Romanian central authority to write to the local authority by 23rd December informing the local authority of its position concerning the baby and the substance of any representation or applications that they were intending to make to the court. A further invitation was made to the Romanian central authority to attend at the next hearing on 13th January, it being noted that the court may make such an order on that date in the absence of any representation and the court considered that sufficient notice had been given. Judge Watson also ordered that the local authority do have permission to disclose this order and other relevant documents suitably redacted to the Romanian central authority before forwarding it to the Romanian child protection directorate that a warning of the confidentiality of the court proceedings would need to be maintained until further order.
The local authority was ordered to send a copy of the order to the Romanian central authority under cover of a letter explaining that their attendance is requested at the next hearing when final orders may be made in their absence. Judge Watson ordered that the Romanian authorities should not disclose the birth of the baby to the maternal family without the permission of the court. She gave leave to the Romanian central authority to apply to discharge parts of the order.
The matter was restored to her Honour Judge Watson on 13th January. The Romanian central authority had been invited but made no representations and was not in attendance on that day. However, the court read a letter from the Romanian directorate for International Law and Judicial Cooperation and another letter from the director of the Romanian child protection department and noted that the child protection department was content not to inform the maternal family about the birth of the baby and the judicial proceedings whilst A’s best interests were considered.
The child protection department does not consider the adoption of the child as justifiable and that it seeks the return of the child to Romania. Various directions were made and the matter was transferred to Mrs Justice King to be heard in the Royal Courts of Justice in London on 17th January 2014. The Romanian authorities were invited to make representations to Mrs Justice King. It was noted that such attendance is essential if the court is to consider the Romanian authority’s opposition to the local authority’s application for care and placement orders. By paragraph 4 of the order if the Romanian authorities wish to oppose the local authority’s application for care and placement orders they are invited by the court by 16th January to file and serve a document setting out their case in detail whether questions regarding the child’s welfare are subject to determination under the United Kingdom or the Romanian law; however, the courts in England have powers of jurisdiction to determine the questions relating to the child’s welfare and any points they make in opposition to the local authority’s plans for the child, any points they wish to make in support of a plan for the child to be returned to Romania, and the plan they propose for the child’s care including how her medical needs would be met. The Romanian central authority was to be served forthwith.
The letter of 9th January which was before Judge Watson came from the Directorate of International Law and Judicial Cooperation addressed to Coventry City Council, “Please find attached letter of response from the child protection directorate concerning the child. The Romanian child protection considers that the international adoption of a child is not justified as Romanian national law provides specific and limited situations when international adoption can take place. The child protection directorate requests repatriation of the child to Romania where the local child protection agency will be available to make the necessary investigations and to adopt protective measures for the child.”
The directorate also wrote on 16th January again to the local authority, “Further to your message of 13th January, we are sending you attached the answer provided by the child protection directorate dated 15th January. With regard to the question raised by the Coventry County Court on the question of jurisdiction, it is our opinion that Article 13 of the EC council regulations number 2201 of 2003 is applicable, that the Royal Courts of Justice could also take into consideration and apply the provisions of Article 15 of Brussels II (Revised). As to the question of consent and participation by the Romanian representative at the hearing on 17th January our office cannot confirm that at this time.”
The letter that was enclosed came from the Directorate of Child Protection which is dated 15th January; “Further to your request for an opinion regarding the case of A, we believe that we should make the clarifications below. As you are aware from the information provided by the British authorities, the Romanian side has been asked to observe confidentiality about the situation of the child and the identity of the parents. It has been mentioned in our previous correspondence that there is a complete provision for Romanian local authorities to support and assume repatriation of the child considering that she is a Romanian national. However, given that the British authorities have only provided us with extremely brief information about the situation, we believe that their request dated 4th January that a series of documents should be made available by the 16th which should present a proposed plan for the child including the manner in which her medical situation would be handled and any other arguments meant to challenge the decisions made by the local authority that the child is adopted are unrealistic considering that any serious assessment must be based on documents that affect both the social background and they affect the medical condition of the child and the family environment of the natural extended family of the child in order to make a substantiated decision about setting up a measure of special protection. Under the circumstances in relation to the recent request by the British court we wish to mention that our institution upholds its opinion about the Romanian local authorities assuming the responsibility of repatriating this child to Romania and that the specialised documents will be prepared by the general directorate of social assistance for child protection from the country of domicile after the British Social Services provide us with the documents that describe the current situation. Whether a representative of the Romanian Embassy will appear on 17th January, please be advised that we cannot issue an opinion about the designation of the representative who will participate.” Then it was signed off

 

Yes, I have left out of my opening remarks that this case is going to involve Brussels II, but sadly it does. I just didn’t want to put you off reading it at the outset, apologies for my deception.
It gets worse, because then the Romanian authorities began to get cold feet about whether the mother was in fact Romanian, and that debate went on for ages and ages. Their position was that IF the baby was Romanian, then they would want the case and would oppose adoption, but in the absence of documentary proof about the mother’s nationality they wanted no part of it (and they weren’t accepting the process server’s detective work at finding family members and a policeman who confirmed that mother was from a village in Romania)

On 13th March the child protection department wrote the following: “Taking into consideration that child citizenship is still to be clarified, we would like to state that if the court would confirm the child is a Romanian citizen, then the Romanian local authorities from the county where the child’s natural family has residence would issue all the required documentation to return the child to Romania specifying also detailed measures and individual protection plan under which the child’s best interests would be protected. We would like to mention that repatriation procedure as well as the background checks are carried out by the Romanian authorities would be based on the government decision number 1443 of 2004 regarding procedures for the repatriation of unaccompanied children providing the child’s best interests would be protected. If, following the assessment made in relation to the child’s extended family or natural parents, it would be decided that the family re-integration is not an option, then a Romanian competent authority would recommend the child be placed in a foster care based on a court order. The child’s placement would be done by the panel for child protection in the county of residence thought necessary by the court depending on the evidence presented if special protection measures are necessary. Taking into consideration the child’s age, the foster care placement would be the solution to be considered by the Romanian authority as under the current Romanian law, a child under the age of two cannot be placed in a residential institution (orphanage). We would like to emphasise that for the moment the Romanian authorities have been unable to identify the child’s extended family members due to the confidentiality of this case. If the citizenship of the child and the mother are established as Romanian then the Romanian authorities will assume true responsibility for its repatriation be handling the case under Romanian laws.”
That was the final word from the Romanian authorities and the note that sets out the general picture, that letter does not give a timescale as to what would be done, when it would be done and when the child could be placed. There is a lacuna as to what actually would be done in fact and the timescale was not set out.

The Court had to consider the factual matrix to decide whether this baby was habitually resident in England, thus giving the English Court jurisdiction, and decided that she was.

I accept that it is likely that the mother and the little girl are both Romanian. I cannot say that I am one hundred per cent certain but the evidence firmly indicates that likelihood. The mother seemed to speak Romanian as her first language. She talked about Romania and said she was returning to Romania. It seems that we have located her family. I am not making a clear finding of that because all I can do is to look at the evidence before me and the mother is not here. The little girl was born here and the mother wanted her to be adopted here. There was no pressure on her to reach this conclusion. It was her conclusion and she gave her reasons. She said that she had no money to support the child; that her family did not approve of her relationship with the father, that they would disown her and they would not support her and that the father himself was not interested. She herself had concealed the pregnancy from her family and from her friend, Z. The mother has effectively abandoned A to her fate here. She wanted her to be adopted in the United Kingdom, hoping that she would find a good home.
Effectively the mother has left her daughter. Since the birth, A has been here, she has never left this country, she has been in hospital for good reasons after her birth and then when she was ill in July. She only left hospital in September when she was placed with her foster carers and she has not left their care since. She looks on them as her carers, as her family, their home is her home, she knows nothing else, she is only ten months old but she is comfortable, seemingly happy and settled in that environment. If she has a language, it is English. It is not Romanian. No doubt she is familiar with the sound of English. She may now be understanding a lot of things, I know not, but if she has a language it is English. Her culture is that of her carers. The environment in which she lives is that of her carers. She has accessed the United Kingdom’s health system. She moves around her carers’ home area with her carers. She will know their friends and her environment is that of her carers who are British, living somewhere in this country, although I am not sure where; that is where she is and that is her environment. She has had no contact with her mother since 7th June when she was still very, very small. It is clear to me that there is a distinct level of integration for this little girl in the social and family environment in this country with these carers. She has no connection from a practical day to day point of view with Romania. It is clear to me that she is habitually resident here and I make that finding.

In that sense, there is no need for me to consider Article 13 and I have jurisdiction because she is habitually resident here but if I am wrong on that, Article 13 would kick in. Where a child’s habitual residence cannot be established and jurisdiction cannot be determined, the courts of the Member State where the child is present shall have jurisdiction. I am saying that Article 8 applies, this child is habitually resident in this country and by that means I have jurisdiction
The next issue, then, was whether the appropriate venue for decisions to be made was England or Romania, applying article 15 of Brussels II

The Court decided not to transfer the proceedings to Romania (and if you are some sort of Brussels II addict, then the specific paragraphs are 44-50.

The NEXT issue was whether there should be an approach made to the extended family in Romania, and HERE for the first time is a live debate between parties to the proceedings. The Local Authority wanted to respect mother’s clear wishes, the Guardian wanted to explore the extended family so that adoption would only be the outcome if it was the last resort.

This has long been a difficult philosophical issue, and it is difficult to ever find a decision on this point that most people would agree on.

The Court here decide that it IS in the child’s interests for that exploration to be made, and place reliance on ‘nothing else will do’ (although it is quoted as ‘nothing less will do’). That, I suspect, is likely to be the conclusion of such debates in the future, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary.

It does, as the Local Authority submitted, raise the spectre of mothers not coming to Local Authorities to relinquish where they don’t want their family involved or contacted, but going back to the bad old days with babies being left in wicker baskets outside hospitals or police stations.

I move on to the last issue before me which is should enquiries be made of the maternal family in Romania and that this would entail a breach of the mother’s confidentiality. The local authority have said that there should be no more enquiries, that it would not be in A’s best interests. It would delay the proceedings here and it would delay the making of a care order and a placement order. The guardian is of a different view and says that there should be enquiries because it would be in A’s best interests if those enquiries are made.
It is never an easy point to breach the confidentiality of a mother who has given birth in difficult circumstances and I recognise that she does not want her family to know about the child and she has given her reasons. It has been said by the local authority that if it became known by a mother in similar circumstances, and if she felt that her confidentiality would be broken, she may not seek the assistance of medical help in giving birth; she may seek “a back street abortion” or give birth secretly which would endanger the mother and the child. The reality is that each case depends on its own facts. The matter is within my discretion.
Under the Children Act my task is to consider the child’s best interests and that must be my paramount consideration. It then sets out the checklist required by section 3 as to whether I make an order or relating to the welfare and best interests of the child. Under the Adoption of Children Act 2002, section 1(2) the paramount consideration of the court must be the child’s welfare throughout his or her life and I am referred to the checklist and things that I have to consider all relating to the future welfare of the child. The care plan here is for adoption. Romania, I acknowledge, does not have the same rules for adoption and their position for placing children is different from ours. Here, recently adoption has been described as the last resort for a child when all else fails and that was said in Re B [2013] UKSC 803 or, as Lady Hale said, it is “when nothing less would do”.
It is a last resort at the end of the day because it is the curtailment of a child belonging to his or her natural family. By adoption the child legally becomes a member of another family and is incorporated into that family on an everyday basis. She would become a full member of that family legally, practically, and emotionally. It is a change of identity of lifestyle, environment, a change of everything in a child’s life. It is a cutting off for the child from her background or the knowledge of the family and the environment in which she came from and it is a cutting off in law as well. The President in the recent case of Re B indicated that it should only be done on very clear evidence and there must be proper evidence both from the local authority and from the guardian and the evidence must address all issues and must contain an analysis of the arguments for and against each option. There must be clear evidence and proper information or as much as can be garnered. All options must be considered before a care plan for adoption can be accepted, with a placement order being made or an adoption order being made.
The court has a duty to ensure that full and proper enquiries have been made of the child’s family. Herein lies the problem, the tension between the little girl’s interests and rights and those of the mother. The mother is not present because she cannot be found and she is not here to put her view and her voice cannot be heard but she made her wishes and intentions for her daughter clear. She wanted the little girl to be adopted and she wanted full confidentiality and had concealed the pregnancy. It is not known how the maternal family would react or what the consequences might be either within the family or to the mother if it became known by the family that the mother had given birth to this little girl and had effectively abandoned her in a foreign land. That we do not know. All we have is the indications by the mother that the family was disapproving of her relationship with the father and she felt that they would not support her in keeping the baby, that the father was not interested. We do not know the consequences that might arise if the family knew about it. All we know is that she wanted confidentiality for her own reasons.
Against that, the little girl has her rights and rights that should be considered before she is adopted here by her current carers. Enquiries should be made to see if she can be returned to her family, her culture, her birth environment, the country of her origins and those are her rights. Both sides, the mother and the daughter, can claim their right to Article 8 of the Human Rights which is that everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of respect except such as in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety, and economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. In other words, in a case like this, there is to be respect for the individual’s private and family life and that the court and others should not interfere with that right.
I must also remember that if the information is correct, there are other members of her family, the grandmother, and there may be a grandfather, the half-siblings, and the father himself would have rights to know about this child, to have a voice in that child’s upbringing, if only to say, “We are not interested,” but they have rights.
It is established law that if there are conflicting interests between a child and adults that after careful consideration of all the interests and consequences of any order, and the child’s interests are paramount and they prevail over others.
On the one hand, we have the mother’s position, as she set out and her wishes and her intentions for her daughter. On the other hand, we have the little girl’s interests. Very little is known about her mother or her maternal family or their circumstances and even less about the father who has not been identified. The guardian, on behalf of A, says that it is important to carry out further enquiries and investigations to see if there is a long-term family member available in Romania, if there is a possibility of direct or indirect contact in the future if she is to remain here and to be adopted; and, if she is to be adopted, more information as to her background would be useful as to her family, their background. Such information may be of value to her in the future to know who she is, to know her background and to give her some sense of identity as to where she came from. Her guardian says that eventually if she is to be adopted, she will grow up to know that she has been adopted but she needs to know before she is adopted that everything was done that should have been done before a decision is made and that will be of value to her in her adult life. The guardian accepts that if there are to be further enquiries, there must be no delay.
There was a window of opportunity in February, it has narrowed in the last few weeks and there is very little time left if those enquiries are to be made. If I allow enquiries to be made, they should be strictly time restricted. The local authority say that there is enough information for this court to proceed, that this child needs to be settled quickly, decisions should be made and there should be no more delay given that the mother’s wishes are clear.
I accept, if there is to be further investigation, that delay is an issue. Fortunately she is well placed. If she is to be adopted there will be no move and therefore she herself from a day to day point of view will remain settled until more is known and further decisions can be made but against that, the stress and strain on the carers must be huge. They love her and are committed to her and want to commit to her long term. They need certainty now or very soon from now. It is not fair on them to make them wait for ever. I bear that very much in mind because they are doing a good job and the little girl is benefiting from their care. Anxiety within the home never is good. It will or potentially could impact upon their care and that is what worries me.
I have thought about this and it is not an easy issue but I have come to a decision. I have come to the view that it would be in A’s best interests to make further enquiries in Romania about her family and for the reasons set out by the guardian but those enquiries should be strictly time limited. There should be a strict timetable as to when they should be concluded. If they are not concluded in the timescale because it has not been possible, then decisions will have to be made in this court to conclude these proceedings. I think there should be one last attempt to make further enquiries of the mother’s family and of the father’s if he can be identified and of the provision and systems for child care in the Romanian locality.

 

As I said at the outset, this was not strictly a relinquish case, because mother didn’t sign the forms, but it is on any reading a case where that was her intent, and the High Court here apply “nothing else will do” as a rationale for not making the order, delaying the proceedings and making further enquiries about family members.

Ruling on ‘the rule’

 

 
In which I ameliorate some of the pain of reading a Brussels II judgment by digressions into betrayal by the BBC, Tarzan wrestling an alligator, James Joyce and Tommy Steele…

The Court of Appeal in Re H (jurisdiction) 2014 were asked to determine whether the trial judge, Mr Justice Peter Jackson, had been wrong to consider that he was not bound by the old ‘rule’ that if two people had parental responsibility neither can unilaterally change child’s habitual residence to another country.

That ‘rule’ is what stops one parent legging it to Spain with the kids and then saying, “well if you want to go to Court about it, I’m afraid we’re all Spanish now, so you’ll have to do it in the Spanish Courts. And I know your Spanish doesn’t stretch further than Dos Cervaza por favor, so good luck with THAT, pal”

[Or at least, it doesn’t stop them doing the legging, but it historically meant that if the other parent hadn’t agreed, then the habitual residence of the children, and the right Court to hear the case in was going to be English]

In the trial itself, it had been argued that the changes to the test of ‘habitual residence’ had meant that this issue was one of a raft of factors rather than being finally determinative of habitual residence, and thus ‘the rule’ was dead.

At appeal, the other side argued that if ‘the rule’ was going to be abolished, then it needed to be done so explicitly, and in the absence of such an explicit abolition it was still good law and binding – thus Mr Justice Peter Jackson had been wrong in diverting from it.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1101.html

Frankly, if you are interested enough to care about the WHY, then you will love the Court of Appeal judgment and can read it all there, it is set out in paragraphs 19 to 37 (It just SEEMS like it is in paragraphs 19 to 64,912)

What you want is the answer, which is that ‘the rule’ is no more. It may be a part of the relevant factual matrix, but just because mum moves the children to Spain against dad’s wishes, doesn’t mean that the children can’t be habitually resident in Spain.
it was submitted to us that a parent’s ability to change their child’s habitual residence unilaterally will be limited by the inclusion of the purposes and intentions of the parents as one of the relevant factors in the factual determination of where a child is habitually resident (see Baroness Hale at §54(ii) of Re A and also at §23 of Re L). I accept that submission. Furthermore, as Baroness Hale said at §26 of Re L, the fact that the child’s residence is precarious (as it may well be where one parent has acted unilaterally) may prevent it from acquiring the necessary quality of stability for habitual residence. However, the fact that one parent neither wanted nor sanctioned the move will not inevitably prevent the child from becoming habitually resident somewhere. If that were the case, the ‘rule’ would be alive and well, albeit dressed up in the new clothes of parental intention as one of the factors in the court’s determination.

Given the Supreme Court’s clear emphasis that habitual residence is essentially a factual question and its distaste for subsidiary rules about it, and given that the parents’ purpose and intention in any event play a part in the factual enquiry, I would now consign the ‘rule’, whether it was truly a binding rule or whether it was just a well-established method of approaching cases, to history in favour of a factual enquiry tailored to the circumstances of the individual case.
The Court of Appeal also go on to say that Parens Patriae jurisdiction [inherent jurisdiction] has no place in these matters, and that the Court should use Article 10 of Brussels II forum conveniens even in a case where the other country is not in Europe. And if for some reason, you are interested in that, may I suggest that you open a window and get yourself some fresh air.

[but it is all at paras 38 to 54. I’m afraid that there is not a sentence there that I was able to read and make sense of first time out. Every single sentence was something of a wrestling match with language, where I had to deconstruct every single aspect and put it back together again to try to work out what was going on, much like Tarzan wrestling with an alligator in a black and white Johnny Weissmuller movie. I ran out of enthusiasm for that exercise at about para 40]

 

That is probably deeply annoying for anyone who does international law and child abduction cases, because this seems to me to be a double whammy of

1. We are going to be arguing about habitual residence in every case on minute detail, rather than applying a simple ‘they ARE in Spain, but against dad’s wishes, so they are still habitually resident in England” test and

2. We’ve just lost the jedi hand-wave of “What’s my power to do this?” “The inherent jurisdiction” – and now need to find chapter and verse on Brussels II article 10.

And more to the point, the last thing anyone needs is more Brussels II.

If a lot of legislation has the ‘bet you can’t read all of this’ quality of “A Brief History of Time” then Brussels II is the equivalent of reading the entireity of “Finnegans Wake” whilst you have both a migraine and a nearby six year old boy who just got a One-Man-Band kit* for his birthday.

[* To play “Crash Bang Wallop What a Picture” on a one man band kit, with Tommy Steele was the second Jim’ll Fix It request I sent in. The first was to meet Enid Blyton, who was long dead at the time. In retrospect, I am no longer bitter and twisted that the BBC never granted my opportunity to go on Jim’ll Fix It]

 

An air of indifference

 

The High Court kicking ass and taking names in Re A (A child) 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/604.html

 

This involved a set of care proceedings in which the father was Latvian. For one reason or another, he did not get served with notice of the proceedings or get told that his child was in care or that he was entitled to be represented for FIVE months.  That despite a series of orders being made that he was to be located and served.

 

The High Court understandably took a dim view of this

 

As far as I can establish orders made were not complied with. When the matter first came before me in September, I am afraid to say that there was an air of indifference by the parties as to the fact that there had been woeful non-compliance with court orders.

 

 

The High Court gave some guidance on cases where one parent lives abroad, this being a more common feature in care proceedings

 

  1. In cases such as this, where one or both of the parents lives abroad, the following action should be taken:

(1) At an early stage every effort should be made to locate, contact and engage a parent who lives abroad. If that other country is one of the signatories to B2R information as to the parent’s whereabouts can be obtained through an Article 55 request via the Central Authority. My experience is they respond effectively and efficiently to focused requests made;

(2) Once contacted the parties and, if necessary, the court should take active steps to secure legal representation for such parents. In this case nothing effective was done for five months. It took less than five hours at the hearing in September to contact the father and secure representation. Most solicitors who do this sort of work have a wealth of experience in undertaking work where one of the parties resides abroad. It is now a much more regular feature of this type of case;

(3) The court must effectively timetable any issues as to jurisdiction to avoid the delays that occurred in this case. This includes early consideration regarding transfer to the High Court. A party seeking written expert legal advice about the extent of this court’s jurisdiction as to habitual residence is not likely to be a helpful step. The question of jurisdiction is a matter to be determined by the court following submissions from the party’s legal representatives.

(4) There needs to be a more hands-on approach by all parties with regard to compliance with court orders. No party should be able to sit back as a spectator and watch non-compliance with orders and not shoulder any responsibility that flow as a result of those failures. The air of indifference by all parties in this case at the hearing in September to the fact that the father had not been served for five months was shocking.

 

 

Ignore those at your peril. I imagine if you happen to be before this particular judge and haven’t followed these guidelines if the issue arises, that it might turn out to be a difficult day in Court.  The retired manager of Manchester United was often described, when shouting at his players, to have given them ‘the hairdryer treatment’   - I suspect that would be putting it mildly. *

 

(* I note Charles J’s comments to the House of Lords committee looking at the Mental Capacity Act 2005 that writing a judgment on a deprivation of liberty case left him feeling like he had been in a washing machine on spin cycle)

 

At any rate, I don’t think that the judicial approach would be indifference.

 

Returning to the case itself, once the father was served, his application was that the case should be dealt with in Latvia.

 

His starting point was that the child was not habitually resident in England, but in Latvia when the proceedings started, so the English Court has no jurisdiction. His fallback position was that even if the English Court had jurisdiction, Latvia should be preferred under Brussels II

 

 

The father’s case was that the mother had taken the child out of Latvia and come to England without his consent, and that having not consented to that removal, it was an unlawful one

 

It is agreed in those circumstances that the removal of A was wrongful pursuant to Articles 3 and 5 of the Hague Convention, because he was habitually resident in Latvia prior to the removal. The father had rights of custody in respect of him under Latvian law under Articles 177 and 178, the father did not consent to his removal and the removal was in breach of his rights of custody which he was exercising or would have done but for the removal.

 

 

The mother claimed that the father had acquiesced in the removal

 

In determining acquiescence the House of Lords decision Re H (Abduction: Acquiescence) [1997] 1 FLR 872 is the leading authority setting out the factors that the court should take into account. They are summarised as follows: firstly, the question of whether the wronged parent has acquiesced in the removal or retention of a child depends on his actual state of mind; secondly, the subjective intention of the wronged parent is a question of fact for the trial judge to determine in all the circumstances of the case, the burden of proof being on the abducting parent; thirdly, the trial judge in reaching his decision on that question of fact will, no doubt, be inclined to attach more weight to the contemporaneous words or actions of the wronged parent than to his bare assertions in evidence of his intentions; fourthly, the court should be slow to infer an intention to acquiesce from attempts by the wronged parent to effect a reconciliation or agree a voluntary return of the abducted children and; fifthly, where the words or actions of the wronged parent had clearly and unequivocally shown or had led the other parent to believe that the wronged parent is not asserting or going to assert his right to the summary return of the child and is inconsistent with such a return, justice requires that the wronged parent be held to have acquiesced.

 

 

The Court was satisfied that the father had been making efforts to locate the mother and the child, and had made applications to Courts in Latvia, this being compelling reasons to discount a suggestion that he had acquiesced to the removal.

 

The Court then looked at whether mother had demonstrated a defence to the abduction that would make it justifiable, and concluded that she had not, or whether there was now ‘settlement in England; and that there was not. (If you are fascinated about the law on abduction, there’s a lot of meaty information in this judgment, but it probably lies outside of the scope of non-specialists)

 

 

Thus, the child was wrongly removed from Latvia, that removal did not change residence, and the English Court had to order return of the child to Latvia, and any future proceedings would be in Latvia rather than England.  The child had legally been habitually resident in Latvia (although was physically in England) at the time the proceedings began

 

  1. For the reasons that I have already set out, I do not consider the father has acquiesced to the retention by the mother of A here and in the same way I do not consider he has acquiesced to A’s habitual residence here and in those circumstances Article 10 B2R applies and A’s habitual residence remains in Latvia.
  1. So for those very brief reasons I am clear that at the time the proceedings were commenced in this jurisdiction A’s habitual residence was in Latvia and so this court, other than for the limited purposes under Article 20 B2R, does not have jurisdiction to determine the care proceedings.
  1. In those circumstances A should be returned to Latvia and I will hear submissions from the parties as to the practical arrangements that need to be made.

 

Brussels Sprouts II – this time it’s jurisdictional

There haven’t been any posts since Christmas, because there haven’t been any judgments published. That’s sort of the way that a topical law blog works – when the Courts go quiet, I go a bit quiet too.

This one from the High Court, Mostyn J, is not what one could describe as interesting (Brussels II cases are NEVER interesting) but in the context of the biggest child protection story of last year, it might be politically important.  (I was hoping someone else would write it up first, as I had my fill of BRII with all of the Slovak cases last year)

 

Re D (A child) 2013 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/4078.html

Brussels II is basically legal shorthand for meaning the mechanism by which the Court in one EU state says to another “Actually, you know that case you’re dealing with – well, we think it ought to come over to us and we’ll deal with it”. It is also important to note that where a BRII application is made, the rules are that it must be determined within six weeks.

You may remember a lot of discussion in the media about the C-section case as to why our courts were dealing with it at all – the answer is fairly simple – the child was physically here, an English Court was presented with an application, and no Italian Court made an application under Brussels II for the case to be transferred lock stock and barrel to them, nor did anyone else.

 

Anyway, this one involved a family who were in the UK but had originated from the Czech Republic  – care proceedings were initiated here, and eventually a plan of adoption was put forward.  The background is set out here

    1. The background to this case is set out in my very full fact-finding judgment dated 30 November 2012 ([2012] EWHC 3362 (Fam)). As I said there, the story that unfolded before me was wrenchingly dispiriting and was one of abuse, misery, exploitation, criminality, and unrelenting vice. The father here was the step-father of the mother. He seduced her (thereby committing the crime of sexual activity with a child family member as defined in sections 25 and 27 Sexual Offences Act 2003) at the same time that he was sleeping with the mother’s own mother. The mother’s half-siblings were allowed to be aware that their father was sleeping with their sister. The father plied the mother with drugs. It was a truly appalling state of affairs.

 

  1. In short, the judgment described the father as a malevolent Svengali. It described how on Day 5 of the hearing he fled to the Czech Republic.

 

The Czech authorities became involved, and put forward a plan whereby the mother and the child would live in the Czech Republic together, with support. The mother also sought to transfer the proceedings to the Czech Republic. (It would be fair to say that the Czech Republic were fairly lukewarm in their enthusiasm for that)

For the child therefore, the jurisdictional issue was not a merely semantic one – the decision as to whether this was properly an English case or a Czech one would determine whether the child would be adopted or live with mother.  Both sides indicated that they would seek leave to appeal if the decision went against them.

    1. It is important to recognise what an order authorising a transfer request under Article 15 entails. It is a request of the foreign court, no more than that. It is not a request to the government of the other EU state. Nor is it a request to its executive arm, the central authority. Nor is it a request to the local authority of the municipality of the foreign state. It is a request to a fellow EU court. And that court has the final say on whether to accept the case or not. It must decide within six weeks. If it accepts the request the case will go there. If it does not it will stay here and be determined here.

 

    1. In my judgment although Article 15 is neutrally phrased it contains an important subtext which is that in child public protection cases the court of a fellow EU state ought, all other things being equal, to decide the future of its own nationals unless the connection of the child to his or her homeland has become so tenuous as to be an irrelevant consideration.

 

  1. But in most cases all things are not equal. And so a scrutiny of the facts must be made in each case.

Mostyn J decided that on the facts of the case the case ought to be transferred to the Czech Republic IF AND ONLY IF, having been told of that decision, the Czech Courts agreed to do so within six weeks, otherwise it would remain in the UK.

 

The important things about this case are :-

 

1. For the first time I am aware of, the application under BRII was made not by the foreign country or court, but by a party to the UK proceedings (Mostyn J specifically concludes that this is acceptable under BRII and that the application can originate from inside the proceedings – thus for the first time there’s a mechanism by which a party in the UK proceedings can try to PUSH the proceedings to another jurisdiction, rather than having to rely on that country seeking to PULL them). In the words of Ron Burgundy – that’s kind of a big deal.

 

2. Mostyn J highlights that in the Czech Republic there is no non-consensual (forced) adoption, and the tension therefore with the Supreme Court authority in Re B that a placement order should only be made if nothing else will do.

3. He also highlights that it is not for English Courts to critique foreign systems or indeed the actions of foreign social workers.

4. The case is obviously going to be appealed, and that will be an opportunity for the Court of Appeal to give some guidance on this issue, which will crop up more and more frequently, of how to deal with cases where one or both parents is living or plans to live in another EU country by the time of the final hearing.

In my opinion the Court of Appeal needs to consider the very difficult issues thrown up by this case and to give definitive guidance as to how future Article 15 requests in public law cases should be dealt with. Certainly I would have thought that they would wish to emphasise that any court hearing a public law case where there is a potential Article 15 aspect should raise this with counsel at an early stage and give consideration to transfer to the High Court. But that will be for them. I confine myself only to granting permission to appeal to the local authority and to the Guardian. Any appeal must be heard with great expedition and I understand that the Court of Appeal would be able to hear the appeal in the first week of the forthcoming Lent term, and in fact will be giving directions later today.

 

So, is being from another EU country a get out of jail free card? Well, perhaps, perhaps not

 

    1. The evidence here suggests that save in cases of abandonment adoption in the Czech Republic is only permitted with parental consent. It is therefore even more momentous where a local authority seeks this remedy in a case where the laws of the child’s homeland would not allow it. Indeed, it may fairly be said to give rise to diplomatic and political questions about the relations between states within the Union.

 

  1. I am fully alive to the fact that in 2004 this family came to this country and settled here. Social Services were not involved with the family until October 2011. When a family immigrates here they must be taken to accept all our laws whether they relate to tax, crime or the protection of children. The fact that our family law permit non-consensual adoption (in contrast to the law of their homeland) is part of the price of the exercise of the right to settle here. This feature is a strong pointer against making the Article 15 request.

 

Mostyn J certainly felt that where there was the potential for a BRII application, the Judge ought to discuss that with counsel, and if so to transfer the case to the High Court.  Although BRII is dry and dusty and not a lot of fun, this decision – and whatever the Court of Appeal do with it, are going to be important for any child protection case where a parent is from another EU Country  (purely anecdotally, for my own caseload over the last five years, that’s about 15-20% of them).  It will be important that the advocates understand what would be involved in such an application and what the tests and arguments are, and important for those advising parents to know that this is an option which might be available.  For some parents, moving back to their birth country might not be something they want to do, but it is certainly a powerful tool particularly where that birth country takes a different view about non-consensual adoption.

 

 

 

“All at sea”

 

An imaginary judgment, written in the fevered mind of Suesspicious Minds during a force 8 gale off the coast of Denmark.  (As ever, this is not legal advice, and I have no idea how such a case might develop in reality)

Before Mr Justice Snowater

Before I embark upon my judgment in this unusual and vexing case, I will take a brief detour  - by way of even a preliminary detour I will let you know that “tangent” is my middle name and I say this not by way of boast or hyperbolae but that it is literally true, and I pause for a moment to show the usher my driving licence, and you may take his nod as assurance, for he is a more honest man than even I.

 

Long ago, many scholars and intellectuals were fascinated by the notion that there was a pure language, beyond that of English, French or Flemish, which was the language of God and the Angels, called Enochian. They pondered as to whether a child, unburdened by our own clumsy imitations of this beautiful and radiant language, might naturally speak the language of Angels.

 

This thought experiment was carried out by King James IV of Scotland, who placed two twin babies on the Scottish island of Inchkieth, with a mute housekeeper to tend to their needs, to be visited years later to see what language they spoke. It is reported (perhaps not reliably) that they spoke pure Hebrew.

 

It is alleged by the applicant in this case, the maternal grandmother of the child, a Mrs Wasteland, that the child’s parents have embarked upon an experiment with their own child, not to deprive the child of language but to deprive the child of dry land and that the State should intervene to prevent it.

 

Mr and Mrs Pugwash were residents of England, until such time as they won a considerable sum on the lottery. At that stage, they began banking in Monaco, for reasons which would not be considered inexplicable. They also purchased themselves a luxury yacht and began sailing around the world. They developed a firm feeling amongst themselves that in effect a sailor’s life was for them, hoping perhaps that the mermaids who sang each to each might one day sing to them. They  therefore determined to try to live as much as humanly possible at sea. 

 

Having both considerable means, and staff who could come ashore and shop for them, they found that this was an achievable, rather than a merely fanciful ambition.

 

Bathed as they were both in happiness and the sunsets of the Azores, it is only natural that they became increasingly close, and a baby was conceived in the usual manner.

 

Midwives were brought on board the yacht, and the couple were delivered of a son, J Alfred.

 

That son J is now four years old and has never set foot upon dry land, having spent his entire life on board the yacht, or swimming just nearby.

Mrs Wasteland, his maternal grandmother, has sought to have contact with J, but the parents have declined to come ashore to allow this. She says that they are thwarting her relationship with J and subjecting him to emotional harm by not allowing him to live on land, or even to have a temporary visit on land. They in turn say that Mrs Wasteland is welcome to come aboard the yacht (for short periods) to visit J. She has declined, being a lady who suffers profoundly from sea-sickness.

 

Representing the grandmother, Mr Raymond Luxury QC, set out admirably the concerns that she holds about the unusual lifestyle for a boy being raised entirely at sea, and invites the Court to make a section 37 direction, compelling the responsible local authority to prepare a report setting out whether J is being harmed in any way and whether public law proceedings should be issued. He invites the Court to make some preliminary findings in relation to significant harm.

 

Mr Luxury says, inter alia

 

(i)            There will be consequences in socialisation, education and physical fitness

 

(ii)          The unknown health implications of spending ones entire childhood at sea , impact on sleep patterns, balance, inner ear development and what he describes loosely as ‘seafarers fatigue’  http://occmed.oxfordjournals.org/content/58/3/198.full      He accepts that the risk of scurvy is fairly low, given the parents wealth and resources

 

(iii)         The unknown psychological effects, such as lack of space, monotony, living in close proximity to others http://pvs.kcc.hawaii.edu/ike/canoe_living/effects.html

 

(iv)         The risk of mal de debarquement    (which candidly, I suspect Mr Luxury QC snuck into his submissions purely to pique my interest, but is a form of long-term illness with the effects that one encounters in the days following leaving a cruise, long airflight or other sustained motion event, but that do not subside)

 

(v)          The inevitable adjustment that J would have to make to a life ashore in adulthood, which may impair his opportunities in life.

 

In broad terms on threshold, Mr Mangrove for the parents, says, with some merit, that if growing up on your millionaire parents luxury yacht is deprivation and neglect, our court rooms are going to be very busy indeed.

 

For the parents part however, the substantial case is one of jurisdiction.

 

Mr Mangrove, representing them, says that before any issues of significant harm can properly be dissected, there are issues of jurisdiction to consider.

 

These are the broad facts :-

 

  1. The parents reside entirely on their yacht, as does J.
  2. The parents have a firm intention to continue to do so.
  3. They have no intention to reside in any town, village or hamlet of the British Isles.
  4. The yacht moves around frequently, it is around Britain for just under three months of the year. The Captain’s log makes that clear.
  5. On the occasions when the yacht is moored in England, it does so in different ports or harbours and has not, during the entireity of J’s life, been moored in the same Local Authority area for longer than one consecutive night.

 

Mr Mangrove therefore pleads :-

 

1. Using the guidance in Shah   [Barnet LBC v Shah 1983 2 AC 309]  ordinary residence refers to a person’s “abode in a particular place or country which he has adopted voluntarily and for settled purposes as part of the regular order of his life for the time being, whether of short or of long duration”.

 

2. The ordinary residence of a child is that of his parents In Re: J (A Minor) (Abduction: Custody Rights) [1990] 2 A.C. 562, 579:

“… where a child of J.’s age [about 3 years old] is in the sole lawful custody of her mother, his situation with regard to habitual residence will necessarily be the same as hers.”

3.    These parents have no settled intention to live in England, and do not do so. Even the dreaded taxman has accepted that the parents do not live in England.

4.    It is accepted by Mr Mangrove that were the parents to be living in their yacht, moored more or less permanently in one location, they would be rightly said to be ordinarily resident there pace John Reeves v Randy Northrop [2013] EWCA Civ 362  [which, going off at yet another tangent, is a beautiful judgment ending very poetically  http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/362.html  ]

5.    Mr Mangrove thus says, with considerable force, that if J does not live in England or Wales, and I must be driven to that conclusion on the evidence, then the Children Act 1989 has as much application to him as it does a child living in Swaziland, and thus the application for a section 8 contact order, and the request for a section 37 direction, and the proceedings themselves, should be dismissed.

 

I sought further clarification on this point.

It arises from section 2 of the Family Law Act 1986

The English Court has jurisdiction under the Children Act 1989 in respect of a child IF 

 

(a)  Brussels II applies

(b)  If on the ‘relevant date’  (when the application was made) the child was habitually resident in England and Wales OR has no habitual residence in England or Wales BUT was present in England or Wales

 

From the ships log, I ascertain that on the date when Mrs Wasteland made her application, the yacht was in Helsinki, which unless Mr Raymond Luxury QC has the benefit of some very old (but still standing) treaties following wars which makes Helsinki a territory of the UK, is not in England or Wales.

Although Mr Pugwash has reluctantly come ashore to deal with these matters, the yacht itself and J, are not in English waters at present.

Brussels II makes it plain that the presence of the child must not be in any way temporary or intermittent  {Re A (Area of Freedom Security and Justice 2009 2 FLR 1}   and if I had been in any doubt, that would have settled the matter.

Given that Brussels II deals with habitual residence in the member state or presence in the member state, and I find that on the facts of this case, J Alfred Pugwash was neither, it must therefore be the case that I have no jurisdiction to make a section 8 order, or a section 37 direction, or to continue hearing this case, as delightful as it would be to maintain a hold on it.

 

By way of consolation, with this judgment, I am handing to Mr Raymond Luxury QC two items to be passed to his client. The first is a sachet of Dramamine, which I understood is very good for sea-sickness. The second is a copy of Italo Calvino’s novella, The Baron in the Trees, a particular favourite of mine, involving a tenacious young lad, Cosimo, who vows to live his entire life in trees and to never set foot upon the ground again. As I recall, it worked out rather pleasantly for all concerned.

 

To the parents, and to young J, I bid them good luck on their voyages, and that they continue to dare to disturb the universe.

 

“If you ever go across the sea to Ireland”

 A discussion of two cases dealing with parents who fled to Ireland to avoid pending care proceedings. We are having a curious burst of the Higher Courts dealing with similar issues coincidentally in batches, and this is another example.

The longer judgment is in  Re LM (A Child) 2013, a High Court decision determined by Mr Justice Cobb

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/646.html

and the shorter is a Court of Appeal decision

 Re OC and OE (Children) 2012 

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2013/162.html

 

In the Court of Appeal case, the Local Authority had concerns about the children, though probably not sufficient to warrant removal, and the mother fled to Ireland with them. The LA sought Interim Care Orders and a return to the jurisdiction. The Court of Appeal agreed that the English Courts had jurisdiction and that making orders compelling the return of the children to the jurisdiction was correct, but reminded themselves, that the status quo prior to the move to another country ought to be restored, and that the Judge had erred in making Interim Care Orders and sanctioning removal of the children in the absence of (a) the parents being there to oppose and (b) the LA demonstrating that the grounds for removal were made out.

 

I felt for the LA lawyer,  “their advocate frankly conceded to the judge that he was not operating in legal territory familiar to him”   and of course, LA lawyers don’t tend to be specialists in international law. If we were, we would wear much more expensive shoes, and work shorter hours.

 The Re LM case is probably more interesting.  Justice Cobb sets out the background here

 

  1. In June 2012, AM (hereafter “the mother”), then in an advanced stage of pregnancy, travelled with her husband, MM (hereafter “the father”) to the Republic of Ireland. In the following month, she gave birth to a baby girl (“LM”). LM is the mother’s fourth child. The mother’s older three children have been the subject of public law proceedings in this country, and are subject to public law final orders, all in kinship placements away from the mother.
  1. At this hearing, in London, the mother told me that she and her husband made that journey to Ireland “purposely to avoid my child [i.e. the baby] being stolen” by the local authority who had taken proceedings in relation to her older three children. It is common ground that this local authority would indeed have issued care proceedings in relation to the baby, had the mother remained in their area.
  1. The mother went on to tell me that “unfortunately” their plan has “backfired.”

 

The plan backfired, because the authorities in Ireland issued their equivalent of care proceedings, and the child was placed in foster care. Having fled there only to avoid care proceedings, the parents had no real interest in staying or living in Ireland – the mother came back to England [although to a different LA than the one she had been living in, and which was 200 miles away] , the father for work purposes moved to Scotland. That obviously had a huge impact on their contact.

 

It was therefore the mother’s application for the proceedings relating to the child to be brought into the English jurisdiction.

 

The High Court went on to identify the main aims of the judgment, and one of them is particularly noteworthy (I know that the ‘flee to avoid proceedings’ is a common school of thought on the internet, and Ireland has been a popular choice – proximity, no language barrier, and their constitutional opposition to adoption being key factors in this. In this case, it seems that it was discussion on the internet that led mother to make that decision to flee to Ireland )

 

  1. This judgment serves two principal purposes:

i) It discusses the legal and practical complications arising in seeking to achieve a transfer of jurisdiction in these circumstances;

ii) It seeks to provide solutions in the instant case, to achieve the move of LM to this jurisdiction in the near future, and the transfer of care proceedings to this Court, initially to the Family Division of the High Court.

  1. This judgment further serves to highlight how futile, and potentially damaging to the infant child, was the course which the parents embarked upon in June 2012. I am advised that there are other parents who have considered leaving this jurisdiction (and indeed been advised by campaigning groups to do so, as the mother indicated she had been) to avoid public authority intervention in their lives, and to achieve some juridical advantage through process in the Irish Courts. Quite apart from the fact that the parents themselves in this case apparently soon came to realise that this was not a good solution for LM or themselves, this judgment will underline how effectively the Courts of England and Wales and the Courts in Ireland, and the public authorities in each State, are able to co-operate to achieve the transfer of a child, and the public law proceedings concerning that child under the Council Regulation (EC) 2201/2003 of 27th November 2003 (hereafter ‘BIIR’), where it is demonstrated to be in the interests of the child to do so. The approach of the English Courts and the Irish Courts appears to be similar; the Irish Constitution exhibits no intention to establish Ireland as a sanctuary for families from other jurisdictions: see the Irish Supreme Court’s decision in Nottinghamshire County Council v B [2011] IESC 48 (at paragraph 72, per O’Donnell J.).

 

[The Irish case is worth reading, and I had not encountered it before. It sets out the very interesting analysis of the Irish constitutional situation with regard to adoption, particularly adoption of children of MARRIED couples http://www.bailii.org/ie/cases/IESC/2011/S48.html    which would probably be an entire article on its own. There certainly has been a school of thought, which this judgment corrects, that the Irish Courts and authorities could not and would not sanction a return of a child to a jurisdiction where adoption was a possible consequence of that return. It is rather more complex than that, and at the very least, the Irish courts would need to be satisfied that the risk of adoption was a very real and proximate one, rather than a possibility ]

The procedure is another Article 15 of Brussels II one [you may remember my recent blog on the Slovak case where the Slovak authorities used it to take over proceedings that were very advanced in the English Courts]

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2013/03/22/ambassador-with-these-brussels-2-applications-you-are-really-spoiling-us/ 

For that reason, I won’t set out all of the principles again. (Phew)

 

  1. At this hearing, on the matters relevant to and consequent upon the Article 15 transfer request, the position of the parties is as follows:

i) The mother: The mother initially proposed, and continues to support, a transfer of the proceedings to this jurisdiction, stating that it is clearly in LM’s interests that such a transfer should be effected. Towards the conclusion of her submissions, she appeared to suggest that her agreement to the Article 15 transfer was in fact conditional upon the receiving authority being identified as Y County Council rather than X County Council. I note the mother’s position in this regard and discuss it further below. That her acceptance of transfer is said to be conditional on the identification of a specific local authority as applicant in this country is of no real consequence, given that effective transfer relies on ‘acceptance’ by one party only to the Irish proceedings; in the instant case, the HSE has indicated its unconditional acceptance.

ii) The father: By letter dated 6th March 2013 from the father’s Irish solicitors, I was advised that he “continues to support his wife’s Article 15 request and consents to the transfer of the public law proceedings in their entirety to the jurisdiction of England and Wales. Our client is content that his position be confirmed by Counsel on behalf of the HSE to the English court on 12th March 2013.” In fact the father attended, from Scotland, for the second day of this hearing and confirmed that he supported the transfer but (corresponding to the position of his wife) wished me to identify the proposed applicant authority as Y County Council;

iii) The HSE: The HSE unconditionally ‘accepts’ the transfer and supports the court taking effective steps to achieve transfer of the proceedings to this jurisdiction; it invites me to be satisfied that it is in the best interests of LM that the proceedings are so transferred; the HSE is neutral on the identification of the appropriate ‘receiving’ authority;

iv) The Guardian ad Litem in the Irish proceedings: The Guardian, by letter dated 11th March 2013, confirms that it is her opinion:

“that the application being made is in the interests of [LM] and should be proceeded with as a matter of urgency ….”

The Guardian expresses her concern that “a transition plan” should be devised to achieve the physical transfer of the infant LM to this jurisdiction ideally to “a long term placement …. should the decision outcome of care proceedings in England and Wales be that [LM] remain in long term State care”. She supports a transition plan “strictly on the basis that” LM is placed in the care of a specific local authority (she had proposed X County Council) and recommends that a Guardian ad Litem be appointed for LM.

And then

 

  1. The request for transfer under Article 15 was further predicated upon a conclusion that it is in LM’s “best interests” for the transfer to be made to this court. It is suggested on behalf of HSE that the best interests test is amply satisfied by a combination of the following factors, in summary:

i) LM is British; her parents, siblings and kinship carers are British.

ii) LM has no family in Ireland. Her only connection with Ireland is that she is physically present there because of a tactical international move made by the mother to avoid the jurisdiction of the English courts.

iii) The mother is now in this jurisdiction and has indicated a wish to remain here. Were LM to be returned to this jurisdiction, this would render easier the facilitation of contact between her and her mother. Assessments of family relationships will be more effective if mother and daughter can be seen regularly together;

and

iv) The background history of LM’s older half siblings originates entirely in the area of X County Council; this evidence is likely to be important in any determination of LM’s future care

 

 

[You will note that HSE, who are the Health Service Executive of Ireland, were agreeing to the transfer of jurisdiction, thus showing comprehensively that the theory that Irish authorities are constitutionally bound to stand guard over parents who might run the risk of their children being adopted and ensure they are not removed, doesn’t work in practice, much as the “freeman of the land” devices don’t actually work in practice]

The case then got into a consideration of which of the two local authorities in England (the one mum had fled from, or the one in which she was now living) would be responsible for the new proceedings.

 I won’t repeat any of that argument, as the authorities are all well known, but I did like Justice Cobb’s asides here

 

The hopes of Thorpe LJ in the Northamptonshire case that the statutory sub-sections could provide “a simple test” to be “operated by the court in what should be the unlikely event of dispute, to determine which Local Authority is to be responsible for the care plan and its implementation” (p.891A) have not entirely been fulfilled, as the subsequent case-law demonstrates. What he hoped would be a “rapid and not over sophisticated review of the history to make a purely factual determination” (p.890G ibid.) in any given case has equally proved forlorn.

 

 

On the facts of the case, the Court found that the designated authority was the one that mother had originally fled from and that she had not become ordinarily or habitually resident in the new one (she was effectively sofa-surfing)

 

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