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The tussels from Brussels

 

{Warning, this post contains some Brussels II stuff, but it also has something potentially important – I’ll try to keep it short}

 

A v D and Others 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/3851.html

 

It involves a 3 year old girl, mother is Polish, father English. They lived together in England but then separated. Father became worried that mother would remove the child to Poland, and applied to the English Courts for an order preventing that.

In April 2012, the father, concerned that the mother might remove E to Poland, issued proceedings in the Bournemouth County Court seeking a prohibited steps order preventing her from removing the child from the jurisdiction, together with a parental responsibility order. After two preliminary hearings, the matter came before District Judge Dancey on 3rd May 2012. A transcript if that hearing is now available. The mother, who was represented, gave evidence on oath stating that, if she were permitted to take the child to Poland for a visit between 14th May 2012 and 16th July 2012, she would return E to this jurisdiction at the end of that period. The father, who was acting in person, indicated that he would not oppose the mother taking E to Poland for a holiday, although he expressed some unhappiness at the length of the proposed visit. On the basis of the mother’s undertaking, the District Judge made an order permitting the mother to remove E to Poland for the purposes of a holiday between 14th May and 16th July 2012.

 

It will not surprise any of you cynical hard-bitten readers to learn that she never came back from that holiday.

 

  1. Shortly after arriving in Poland, the mother applied to a court in that country for a custody order and subsequently wrote to the Bournemouth County Court stating that she did not intend to return. On 24th July 2012, the father filed an application with the Central Authority for England and Wales under the Hague Child Abduction Convention 1980 and Council Regulation (EC) 2201/2003, (hereafter referred to as Brussels II Revised), seeking the summary return of E to this jurisdiction. On 10th August, the father’s application in the county court was adjourned generally with liberty to restore. The father’s application under the Hague Convention was pursued via the Central Authorities but on 17th December 2012, it was dismissed by the district court in Ruda Slaska in Poland. The father’s appeal against that decision was subsequently dismissed on 24th October 2013.
  2. On 30th April 2014, the father made an application in the existing English proceedings seeking an order committing the mother for contempt of court, an order for parental responsibility and a contact order. The application was transferred to the High Court and listed before me in July 2014 to consider as a preliminary issue whether or not the court had jurisdiction to entertain the application. In the reserved judgment delivered 31st July, I held that this court had jurisdiction to entertain the father’s application for orders concerning matters of parental responsibility. In the course of legal argument at the hearing, however, I indicated to Mr Edward Devereux, counsel for the father, that I proposed to consider whether the court should exercise its power under Article 15 of Brussels II Revised to transfer the case to Poland. Mr Devereux thereupon submitted that the court had no power to transfer proceedings under Article 15 because no party to the proceedings accepted the transfer, but seeing that this argument did not initially find favour with the court, he asked for further time to consider the issue, having regard to the fact that it had only arisen in the course of argument.

 

I’ll dash through it quickly, because everyone hates Brussels II. A Court can, and now must, consider whether the proceedings ought to be transferred to another EU Country to deal with, if they are better placed to deal with them AND the child has a connection to that country.

 

For these purposes, the connection is either:-

That the mother, who has PR, is now habitually resident in Poland

OR

that the child has acquired habitual residence in Poland AFTER the English Court started to deal with the case

 

The father’s case (and I have a huge amount of sympathy for him here) is that the mother and child are only in Poland because mum abducted him and breached Court orders, yet she is now being rewarded by having the Court case on home turf – to transfer would be to reward her for her wrong-doings.

 

  1. First, Mr Devereux informed me that this case presents a factual situation which, so far as counsel have been able to discover, has not been considered before in any reported case, that is to say a proposal, arising in private law proceedings following the unlawful retention of a child, to transfer the proceedings under Article 15 to the country in which the child has been unlawfully retained. Mr Devereux stressed the fact that E is only in Poland as a result of a wrongful act perpetrated by her mother. On any view this is a blatant case of child abduction and it is not right for a court to reward a party who has acted unlawfully. Furthermore, the mother appears to have committed perjury before the English court. A transcript of the proceedings before District Judge Dancey has now been obtained and demonstrates clearly that the mother gave a promise on oath that she would return E to the jurisdiction of this court in July 2012 at the conclusion of the holiday. The father has launched committal proceedings for contempt of court arising out of the mother’s breach of her undertaking and it is asserted on behalf of the father that he will continue to press this application. In those circumstances, proceedings will in any event be continued in this jurisdiction. Mr. Devereux submitted that it would therefore be undesirable for proceedings to be continuing in both countries.
  2. Mr Devereux further contrasted the respective abilities of the parties to participate in proceedings in the two countries. The mother was able actively and properly to engage in proceedings in this country. She has a good understanding of the English language, as is plain from her oral evidence before District Judge Dancey. She was able to give a promise on oath which the judge felt able to accept. In contrast, the father asserts that he has no knowledge of the Polish language and no understanding of the procedures of the Polish courts. He does not have the means to travel to Poland and stay there to participate in proceedings. Poland has a system of legal aid but, as demonstrated in he expert report from Dr Kasinska-Wiercinska, there are in practice a number of difficulties facing a litigant in the father’s position who wishes to apply for such assistance.
  3. Mr Devereux further submitted that, all things being equal, E’s best interests would be served by having a relationship with her father and her father being involved in her upbringing. This court can ensure that this happens speedily by making a child arrangements order for contact and issuing an Annex III certificate which could be automatically enforceable in Poland. In contrast, if the case is transferred to Poland there is, submitted Mr Devereux, no guarantee that any application made by the father would be heard expeditiously nor, if and when it was heard, that he would be granted contact with his daughter.

 

As the Judge was Baker J, the law is flawlessly applied and set out, and the approach was really to answer the three questions posed by Munby J (as he then was)

In AB v JLB Brussels II Revised Article 15 [2009] 1 FLR 517 at paragraph 35 Munby J (as he then was) identified the three questions to be considered by a court when deciding whether to make a request under Article 15:

“First, it must determine whether the child has, within the meaning of Article 15(3), ‘a particular connection’ with the relevant other member State. . . . .Given the various matters set out in Article 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 Article 15(3)(b)) or the place of the child’s nationality (see Article 15(3)(c))?

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.

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.”

Baker J found that the answer to all three questions was yes, and that the Polish authorities should be asked to take over the case.

Part of his thinking here was that with a mother who was living in Poland and adamant that she would not return to England and play no part in any Court proceedings in England, there was no likelihood of any actual contact for father getting underway.  [My reading of the case is that father was seeking to spend time with the child, rather than have the child live with him full-time. That might have made a difference, it is hard to say]

 

25. ..without the mother’s cooperation and participation in the proceedings, it is highly unlikely that any court will make any order for contact in this case. All the evidence suggests that the mother does not intend to take part in these English proceedings, and without her co-operation the father’s application for contact cannot be resolved by the English court. The fact that the father is intending to pursue his application in this jurisdiction to commit the mother for contempt makes her participation in any English proceedings concerning parental responsibility and contact even less likely. She may also be reluctant to take part in proceedings in Poland, but crucially the Polish court would have the power, should it choose to exercise it, to oblige her to participate. Although the father would be at a considerable disadvantage were he required to participate in proceedings in Poland, it is reasonable to expect him to do so to the best of his ability. It may be possible, however, for ways to be found to assist his participation in Polish proceedings.

  1. When one turns from the fact-finding hearing to the welfare stage of the proceedings, it is plain that the balance of the evidence on welfare matters lies in Poland. I agree with Miss Green’s observation that the Polish courts have a very real advantage by reason of the child’s presence within their jurisdiction. This makes it possible for all necessary enquiries and investigations as to her welfare to be carried out there. E is living in Poland. Her life centres round her mother and friends and family in that country. Any contact will inevitably have to start in Poland. There would of course have to be some investigation of the father’s circumstances, which would involve consideration of his home and life in this country. But the preponderance of evidence as to welfare matters will arise in Poland.

 

I don’t doubt that this is the right decision in law – I’m a fully paid-up member of the Baker J fan-club  (I have the badge, and I know the secret handshake), but God, this seems utterly unfair to this father. He did the right thing – he got an order from a Court to stop mum taking the child to Poland, only to find that in the teeth of someone who was prepared to breach it, Article 15 of Brussels II rewards her and punishes him.

And this happened without mum even ASKING for Brussels II to apply.

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

2 responses

  1. You know quite well that once habitual residence is established it shifts the case in their favor. The longer it the case takes the more settled the child becomes. You also mention that the father only applied for contact and the court may not be willing to back what appears to be a part time parent versus a full time parent. Still it is a shame that the father and child won’t be having tea and crisps after fox hunting at his idyllic country estate.

  2. Brussells II with chips.

    Thanks Suessp: a really helpful intro to a tough subject and a bitter pill for the father. I would only fault Baker J thus far: committy with Munby J (and other HCt judges) is one thing; but he was entitled to take a fresh view. Result might be the same; but too many Munby J/LJ/P acolytes (and that is Baker J’s Achilles heel) takes family law common law in directions which are sometimes dubious.

    I have a few bob on Hayden J on form shown thus far…; but not seen him lock horns in a judgment with Munby yet.

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