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
and the shorter is a Court of Appeal decision
Re OC and OE (Children) 2012
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 )
- 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.
- 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  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]
For that reason, I won’t set out all of the principles again. (Phew)
- 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.
- 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;
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)