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OK, take custody

 

The High Court in Re D (Children: Abduction) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/3990.html

dealt with a private law dispute between parents over their children.  (I know that most family lawyers are gritting their teeth, wincing and in agonies about the use of the word ‘custody’ in the heading, but it is a direct quote from the key part of the case).

There seemed to be a lot of unhappiness between the parents as to the amount of maintenance that the father was paying to the mother.  The mother and children lived in France, the father in England.  They had a frank exchange of views by email and texts – starting about mother’s request that father extend his holiday with the children for two days and then getting very heated.  Unfortunately for the mother, this exchange of views happened whilst father was having holiday contact with the children so they were in his care, and she at one point used the words ‘OK take custody’

The father duly did, and when the mother sought the return of the children to her care and made an application to that effect relying on his abduction, the father’s case was that the mother had given clear and unequivocal consent in the message “Ok take custody” for the children being in his care, which is a defence to the Hague Convention abduction remedies.

On the face of it, “Ok take custody” is not a wise thing to say to someone when you are arguing about where the children should live, but it is also important to look at the context. Mother’s case was that the words were heat of the moment in a heated and difficult exchange and not to be taken seriously, father’s case was that she meant them literally and clearly and unequivocally consented.

Let’s look at the whole exchange :-

 

 

  • In the summer of this year the parties agreed that the father would bring the children to England for a holiday lasting about five weeks. It was agreed that he would collect them on 26th June and return them on 30th July. Prior to the children’s departure to England, and over the first few days after their arrival, the parties engaged in a lengthy email exchange arguing about a range of matters. Translations of all the relevant emails have been put before me. Initially, they argued about whether the father could keep the children for two further days. It was the mother’s request that he do so; the father refused. The mother asked again; the father refused again. In so doing, he alluded to the fact that he was paying what he described as an “enormous amount of maintenance”.
  • That led to a lengthy email from the mother in which she said inter alia about his payment of maintenance:

 

“It’s your duty to do that. You’re not doing it for me. Don’t pay maintenance if you don’t want to, couldn’t care less. What are you complaining about? Do you want to swap roles, even though my maintenance won’t be such an enormous amount as yours, as you make so clear?”

In his reply the father said inter alia:

“If you’re not there to pick them up on 30th July in the afternoon I will file a written record of your absence and they will go back to school in England.”

In her reply, the mother said:

“Okay, if it was so simple then separated parents would send their children here and there without worrying about their wellbeing. Instead of filing a solution, you threaten me. Okay, I’m waiting to see. Bring them back the last week at school or else I’ll file a complaint for kidnapping.”

The father replied:

“It’s very simple, you agreed to take them back on the 30th of July and I cannot keep them any longer.”

A little later:

“There’s no point in making a fuss about nothing, everything was very clear and the dates were clearly stated.

You’re the one who wants to change the dates, so it’s up to you to come up with a solution.

This is my last email on this subject.”

 

  • All those emails took place on 20th and 21st June. That was the end of the exchange. The children were collected by the father and brought back to England on 26th June for their holiday.
  • On 1st July the email exchange resumed with further arguments about money. In the course of these arguments, at 14.49 on 1st July the father sent an email saying inter alia:

 

“If you’re not happy with the maintenance you get I can take custody back. I’m fed up of you treating me like a bank.

I’m waiting for you to confirm about the 30th of July.”

The email exchange then continued as follows. At 15.12 the mother sent an email saying simply: “OK take custody.” A minute later she sent a further email to the father saying:

“You must still be in Paris? Pop round to pick up the rest of their belongings.”

At 15.23, that is to say some ten minutes later, the father replied:

“I will need a letter from you saying that I have formal custody starting today, I will also use this email.

It’s not very important about their belongings.

You need to pay about €450 maintenance.

I let you have custody because you were creating problems when I had them last year. Unfortunately you carried on creating problems once you had custody.

This time you’ll have to get sorted, it will be the last time they move, you’ll have to sort visits out the best you can.”

At 15.33, some ten minutes afterwards, the mother replied:

“You know the procedures.

Start by making an appointment with the Family Judge.”

At 15.42, nine minutes later, the father replied:

“They are in France because I agreed to it, and that was following procedures in their original place of residency.

This time is simply them coming home.”

At 15.52, some ten minutes later, the mother replied:

“Oh no. They go to school in France and their primary residence is in France. You want to go to prison, abduct them. You will need the French judge’s ruling to put them in a school. Good luck.”

At 15.55, some three minutes later, the father replied:

“Abducting? You just told me to take custody.

I’m not playing around here.

No worries about the judge in France, seeing as you’re the one who enrolled them in school in France and they were staying with you. I’ll let you fill in the questionnaire which you can find here.”

He then attached a website link, presumably to the French court office. At 16.01, some six minutes later, the mother replied:

“Why should I fill this form in? You sort it out.

End of conversation.

Have a good day.”

If you can read that without wanting to bang both of their heads together, I’d like to thank you for visiting the blog St Francis of Assisi. Quick reminder that these people are actually adults, who have responsibility for looking after children.  My take here is that mother was not clearly and unequivocally consenting (things like “You want to go to prison, abduct them” are pretty suggestive that she’s not agreeing to a change of residence), but that she was also pretty foolish in not picking up that the father was more than willing to call her bluff on the sarcastic ‘ok take custody’ email.

  • The leading case on the question of consent in this jurisdiction under Article 13(a) is the decision of the Court of Appeal in Re P-J (Children)(Abduction: Habitual Residence: Consent) [2009] EWCA Civ 588. Consent is a defence which the defendant has to prove. At para.48 Ward LJ identified the following nine principles to be applied when the court is considering a defence of consent:

“(1)  Consent to the removal of the child must be clear and unequivocal. 

(2)  Consent can be given to the removal at some future but unspecified time or upon the happening of some future event. 

(3)  Such advance consent must, however, still be operative and in force at the time of the actual removal.

(4)  The happening of the future event must be reasonably capable of ascertainment.  The condition must not have been expressed in terms which are too vague or uncertain for both parties to know whether the condition will be fulfilled.  Fulfilment of the condition must not depend on the subjective determination of one party, for example, ‘Whatever you may think, I have concluded that the marriage has broken down and so I am free to leave with the child.’ The event must be objectively verifiable.

(5)  Consent, or the lack of it, must be viewed in the context of the realities of family life, or more precisely, in the context of the realities of the disintegration of family life.  It is not to be viewed in the context of nor governed by the law of contract.

(6)  Consequently consent can be withdrawn at any time before actual removal.  If it is, the proper course is for any dispute about removal to be resolved by the courts of the country of habitual residence before the child is removed. 

(7)  The burden of proving the consent rests on him or her who asserts it.

(8)  The enquiry is inevitably fact specific and the facts and circumstances will vary infinitely from case to case.

(9)  The ultimate question is a simple one even if a multitude of facts bear upon the answer.  It is simply this: had the other parent clearly and unequivocally consented to the removal?”

  • It is the father’s case here that the mother in her emails made statements which amount to “clear and unequivocal consent”. He points in particular to her use of the word “consent” in the email to which I have alluded and the subsequent emails, which he invites the court to read as clearly indicating that the mother was genuinely consenting and inviting him to go to the French court to obtain a formal order to avoid being accused of abduction. This is his interpretation of the references in the email exchanges which I have quoted to the court forms.
  • On the other hand, Dr. Rob George on behalf of the mother submits, first, that there was no clear or unequivocal consent and, secondly, even if the mother did give consent in the email exchanges on 1st July, that was plainly withdrawn on 23rd July, seven days before the end of the holiday on 30th July which constituted the point at which the children were retained in this jurisdiction.
  • I have no hesitation in accepting Dr. George’s submissions. First, I do not regard the mother’s words as I have quoted in the email exchanges on 1st July as amounting to “a clear and unequivocal consent”. Plainly what she said in those emails was said in the heat of the moment, and I remind myself of the observations of Ward LJ in the passage from Re P-J which I have just quoted, namely that: “Consent, or the lack of it, must be viewed in the context of the realities of … the disintegration of family life.” This exchange took place in the course of a heated conversation between the parties in which the mother was becoming frustrated and angry about what she saw as the father’s unreasonable behaviour so far as the precise timing of the contact was concerned, the date on which the children would be returned, and matters of money. Whether or not she was justified in becoming frustrated and angry, I know not, but what is clear to me is that her statements made in the emails have to be viewed in that context, and I do not in those circumstances regard them as clear or unequivocal. To my mind, the fact that she referred to abduction only a few minutes later in a further email further shows that the emails do not amount to “a clear or unequivocal consent”.
  • Secondly, even if I am wrong about that and the statements made in those emails were “a clear and unequivocal consent”, manifestly that consent was withdrawn before the children were retained.
  • Accordingly, applying, as I do, the principles in Re P-J which relate to removal by analogy to the retention of the children, any consent that was given was plainly withdrawn on or by 23rd July in the email which I have just read out. This, to my mind, is a blatant example of unlawful child abduction and my plain duty under the Hague Convention is to order the summary return of all three children, which I shall now do.

 

 

But Belgium says no thanks

 

This is decidedly weird.  The High Court were dealing with an application under the Hague Convention for an order to return the child to Belgium. The father alleged that the mother had abducted the child and that the child should be returned to Belgium, where the Belgian Courts could then make the decision about where the child should live.

 

The problem was, that before anyone started to get stuck into whether there had been an abduction, whether there were defences under the Hague Convention and Child Abduction Act that might mean that the child should not be returned and so forth, that Belgium would not let the mother and child into their country anyway.

 

Re NA (dismissal of application under Hague Convention) 2015

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/3686.html

 

The entire family had come from Iran. They left Iran in 2008, made their way to Belgium and made a claim for asylum. That claim was refused and there was substantial litigation about the appeals process. They tried again afresh in 2011, and again their claim was refused.

The mother and child came to England in 2013, and she applied for asylum here (she and her son have been given leave to remain in the UK for five years – this happened whilst these proceedings were taking place). Father applied two years later for an order compelling the child’s return to Belgium.

Whether there had been an abduction of the child or not, can the Court order someone to return the child to Belgium when the Belgian authorities had ruled twice that the family had no legal right to be in Belgium ?  Nor could the Home Department of the UK remove the mother and child to Belgium – (prior to granting their leave to remain they could have removed them back to Iran, but not back to Belgium)

 

 

  1. There was indirect contact between the father and the child on occasions during 2014. In June 2015 the father issued an application for the return of his son to Belgium pursuant to the Hague Convention, thereby commencing the present proceedings. It is to be noted that that application was issued a little more than two years after the removal of the child from Belgium, and accordingly the application would in any event have raised a lively question as to whether it was “demonstrated that the child is now settled in its new environment” within the meaning of, and for the purpose of, Article 12 of the Convention. That issue and, indeed, any other “defences” under the Hague Convention has never been considered, nor determined, by the court; for in the meantime the question arose whether, even if ordered to return the child to Belgium, the mother could, in fact, lawfully do so, because it appeared that neither she nor the child would be permitted to enter Belgium. As I have indicated, that difficulty arose because the period within which the state of Belgium would have been required to take back the mother and child pursuant to the regulation Dublin II had long since elapsed. It appeared, therefore, that the mother herself could not lawfully voluntarily return with the child to Belgium. It appeared also that the Secretary of State for the Home Department could not now remove the mother and child to Belgium, although it might have been open to the Secretary of State to remove them to Iran, being the state of which they are both citizens.
  2. During the last few months there have been several brief hearings before the court, and most recently on two earlier occasions before myself, whilst efforts have been made fully to explore the immigration status of the mother and child here; the intentions of the Secretary of State with regard to removing them; and the question whether the mother and child could be forcibly removed to Belgium or, indeed, voluntarily return to that state. One possibility that was mooted was that, upon application to it, the state of Belgium might exercise a discretion to permit the mother and child to return to and enter Belgium on the basis of a “family reunion visa”. The difficulty with that particular suggestion was and is that there is no question of “family reunion”, because the mother makes crystal clear that she is not willing to return to live with, or in any way be “reunited” with, the father.
  3. Against that background I made an order dated 28th October 2015, which anyone with a proper interest in this matter could read for its full terms and effect. There were two recitals, which essentially recorded the position as it was or appeared to be at that date, namely:

    “1. Upon it now appearing from the reply from the Home Office dated 28th October 2015 to the request for information in Form EX660 that the mother and child cannot now be returned to Belgium pursuant to the Council Regulation Dublin II, and that the Home Office is now substantively considering the mother’s and child’s claim for asylum, which (it appears) are likely to result in the Home Office either granting asylum or seeking to return the mother and the child to Iran;

    2. And upon the present evidence from the Belgian authorities and in relation to Belgium appearing to indicate that the mother and child could be granted admission on a ‘family reunion visa’, but that there cannot be a ‘family reunion’ as the mother would not agree to living again with the father, and would not voluntarily agree to the child living with the father; but that it is possible (but speculative) that the Belgian authorities might permit the mother and the child lawfully to enter Belgium (without passports) on some alternative basis.”

  4. Upon the basis of those recitals, this case was further adjourned until today, and my order made plain, in summary and in effect, that the father had an opportunity meantime to obtain evidence and material from the state of Belgium to the effect that the mother and child would both be permitted lawfully to enter and remain in Belgium and that any fresh application by the mother and child for asylum in Belgium would be considered by that state. The order made clear that the documents and material required to be produced by the father would have to include an original authentic official actual laissez-passer or similar document in respect of each of the mother and the child, which would actually permit each of them lawfully to enter and remain in the state of Belgium.
  5. Over six weeks have elapsed since that order, and the father has not been able to obtain or produce any such material or documents and, quite frankly, it would seem that there is no realistic prospect now of the Belgian authorities permitting this mother and child to return to and enter Belgium on any basis.
  6. Meantime, there has been a further very significant development. By a decision letter dated 16th November 2015 the Home Office informed the mother and the child that they have been granted asylum in the United Kingdom for a period of five years, with leave to remain here until 12th November 2020. The letter makes clear that if they wish to remain after that date, they must make an application for further leave before the leave now granted expires.
  7. So, the position now is that the ability of the mother and child to remain here for the next five years is no longer tenuous but has been granted. There is, therefore, no further imminent possibility or prospect of the mother and child being forcibly removed by the Secretary of State to Iran. Equally, there is no longer the slightest scope for the application of Council Regulation Dublin II or the mother’s claim for asylum being considered in Belgium, since she and the child have been granted asylum here.
  8. In those somewhat unusual circumstances I simply dismiss this claim for a return of the child summarily to Belgium pursuant to the Hague Convention, on the short grounds that it is not practicable or possible for either the mother or the court or, indeed, anyone else to give lawful effect to an order if one was made for the return of this child to Belgium. As I have indicated, there may have been a range of other “defences” to the application, but in the circumstances I have not given any consideration to them and dismiss this application on the short basis that I have described.

 

All very peculiar.

 

 

Diplomatic immunity – it’s just been revoked

 

 

Well, it hasn’t been revoked, but who wouldn’t want the chance to see the classic Lethal Weapon 2 exchange?

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwC_IaY3BmY

 

 

[If any ancillary relief Judge wants to quip in a case involving a millionaire farmer – “You want to be a farmer? Well here’s a couple of acres” then you’d be doing me a solid. Failing that, I’d settle for a “Get to the chopper” line for a case involving a TV chef]

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-9-Te-DPbSE

 

This case involves a child whose father has taken one of two twins (I know, that seems redundant, twins do tend to come in twos, but ‘one child of twins’ doesn’t seem great either) to another unnamed country, whilst the other remains with his mother in England.

 

The mother obtained an order for the return of that child. The father asserted diplomatic immunity.

 

I would love to be able to assert diplomatic immunity. If there’s a country out there who wants a diplomat, a country that is prepared to accept that I would almost certainly abuse that privilege, then give me a call. I would be prepared to learn another language (at least to the extent of “sorry sucker, I’m afraid I’ve got diplomatic immunity” in said language)

 

Re MA and Another 2015

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/4730.html

 

There was some debate about whether diplomatic immunity only extended to things which occurred during the carrying out of professional duties or all things, but it is settled as being complete immunity from arrest or detention.

 

A feature of the case is that the father has asserted diplomatic immunity, pursuant to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Immunity, incorporated by the Diplomatic Privileges Act of 1964. It appeared, following the father’s arrest on 14 October 2014, that whilst the diplomatic protection the father enjoys is in effect full immunity from the criminal jurisdiction and in the civil and administrative jurisdiction, it was limited to acts performed only within the course of his duties. As matters have evolved it seems the scope of his protection is more extensive and he remains, it is asserted, inviolable at all time to any form of arrest or detention.

 

 

 

The High Court may retain some powers under the inherent jurisdiction to ask him to think very carefully about what he’s done and why he should say sorry, but that’s about it. Also, I’m adding ‘inviolable’ to a growing list of words I don’t want to try to pronounce for the first time in Court.

 

The father didn’t attend the hearing. He did produce a statement, which the Court wasn’t very impressed with. It wasn’t in a recognisable format and they did not think that a lawyer had been involved in its preparation.

 

[my personal speculation was that his statement was just “sorry suckers, I’m afraid I’ve got diplomatic immunity” in Guarani. Or alternatively, just a CD with a loop of Billy Bragg singing the “your laws do not apply to me” bit from Sexuality]

 

and the Court decided to proceed in his absence and hear evidence from the mother. They repeated the order that he should return the child to the jurisdiction and that the child was wrongfully removed from the mother’s care and out of the jurisdiction.

 

That’s an order that is somewhat toothless, since there is no punishment that the Court can levy against him if he decides not to comply. It is still the right thing to make the order.

 

Enforcement of it is going to be very difficult indeed. Let’s hope that these twins are reunited without any further litigation.

 

child abduction and child abuse

The case of Neustadt v Neustadt (child abduction) 2014 is an interesting and desperately sad one

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/4307.html

 

The bare bones of it are that there were two boys, Daniel aged 8 and Jakob aged 6. Their father, who was Russian, took them to Russia on Christmas Day 2012 and it took 2 1/2 years for the mother to get them back, including having had to litigate in the Russian Courts.

 

The wider aspect of the case is probably in the name of it – although the case relates to child abduction and a state of affairs by the father which the Judge described as child abuse and brainwashing, the family’s real name is published.

That is unusual, and many readers might well be wondering why it is okay to do that in this case, but children’s names have to be anonymised in other court cases.

  1. The above judgment was handed down to the parties on 26 November, with a request for submissions on the question of publication. The response of the mother and the Children’s Guardian, represented by CAFCASS Legal, is to support publication in un-anonymised form. The father does not oppose publication in all circumstances, but suggests that the issue should be deferred until welfare decisions about the children have been made. He argues that there is a high likelihood of an adverse impact of publication on the fairness of the proceedings and on the children’s welfare and that the issue would be easier to judge at the end of the proceedings.
  2. I agree with the submission for the mother and the Guardian that there is a public interest in the true circumstances of this case being known, for these reasons: (i) The parties’ accounts of events have already been widely published in England and in Russia. The true facts should be known, particularly where misinformation has been published by one party.

    (ii) This is apparently the first case under the 1996 Hague Convention. It shows the importance of the Convention, the willingness and ability of the courts of the Russian Federation to apply it, and the results that can be achieved when lawyers work together across jurisdictions.

    (iii) Knowledge of the outcome in this case may encourage the adult victims of other child abductions and deter potential child abductors, especially if the latter know that they might be publicly named.

  3. Like the Children’s Guardian, I do not consider that any serious or lasting disadvantage will come to the children from further publication. The existing publicity does not seem to have had any adverse effect on them.
  4. It is clear that an anonymised judgment cannot be published as the identity of the family would immediately be obvious.
  5. The only remaining question is whether publication should be delayed, as the father suggests. I understand the general argument that in some situations publicity could put pressure on professional assessors, or even on the court, but I do not accept it on the facts of this case. The welfare assessment that will now take place will be carried out by experienced professionals. The court’s welfare decision will not be influenced by publicity. The British media has reported the case responsibly and in my view nothing is to be gained from postponement. On the contrary it is in the interests of the family that its time in the public eye begins, and thus ends, as soon as possible.
  6. Accordingly, this judgment can be published as it stands.

 

There were some dreadful details in this. One theme which kept emerging was the father taunting the mother in a very literary way.

On 22 January, the father e-mailed a poem by Nietzsche to the mother. It is entitled “Vereinsampt” [“Alone”]. The mother correctly interpreted this as the father crowing

 

and

On 7 March, the father ordered a book online that was delivered to the mother a few days later. This was “Glory” by Nabokov, which describes a Russian émigré who re-enters Russia secretly and succeeds in keeping his whereabouts unknown from family and friends.

 

I don’t think I have come across a case before where the menacing communication was by way of literary allusion, and a set of Cliff study guides would have been of assistance

The father had gone to extraordinary lengths with these children

The children lived in these bizarre and unlawful circumstances between November 2013 and June 2014. The only reliable source of information about how they were treated comes from their later accounts to their mother. They have told her that there were many rules of life. They were told that they were being hunted by violent “bandits” who were trying to kidnap them and that she was in the gang. They could only go outdoors one at a time so that no one would see both boys together. They were not allowed to go out on the same day. They were not allowed to look out of windows. On one occasion they had to crouch down in a car. They were given different names. They could not go to school. They were coached to say why they did not want to live with their mother.

 

 

 

  • 90The mother says that the protracted collection was “horrific”, despite what she describes as the very professional approach of the authorities. The father was out and the grandmother, who had stayed with the children, did everything she could to obstruct the process. Her behaviour included:
    • Refusing to open the door until the bailiff started to drill off the locks.
    • Grabbing the children and inciting them to panic by shouting phrases that the children repeated in a monotonous drone: “No, no, no! Mummy is bad!” “They don’t want to go to England, they want to stay in Russia!” The children later told their mother that they were doing what they had practised.
    • Refusing to release the children and smacking the mother’s hand when she tried to touch and reassure them.
  • Refusing to hand over the children’s passports.

 

and

On 4 July, the father wrote an article in a Russian online newspaper, describing the children’s “forcible seizure” and saying that:

“There are about 15 people in plainclothes who took part in the taking away of the children, among them were foreigners dressed as members of a US-centric religious organisation, as well as a bailiff brought by them, who refused to produce any documents for the removal of children, but explained that he was contacted by the USA Embassy and ordered to use force. … The persons who broke into the flat used force towards the children and dragged them away by force, parting them from their father and grandmother against the children’s will. The children resisted in every possible way, cried, screamed that they wanted to live in Russia with their father and would never agree to leave for the USA or England. The children, who think of Russia as their Motherland, were irremediably traumatised by such fascist punitive squad’s methods.

The children are Russian citizens; they are fully integrated in Russia, their only native language is Russian … My children and I are Russian citizens, who legally returned to Russia in 2012. … There were numerous offers of amicable settlement suggested to the foreign party, but they were fully ignored under the pressure of Russophobe milieu of the children’s mother. The father is the only legal representative of the children in Russia, and children love Russia and the Russian culture very much.

I am requesting that all mass media, Russian authorities and human rights activists should assist in the immediate search for and discovery of children’s whereabouts … in prevention of children’s isolation from their father and their removal to the USA via England. In case of such removal and full isolation from their father in the foreign-speaking environment, the children will suffer another psychological trauma which will haunt them their entire life.”

 

The Judge’s findings were powerful and moving

 

  1. My findings
  2. These three children have been habitually resident in England and Wales since January 2011. After their parents’ separation, the arrangements for them to live with their mother and spend time with their father were carefully negotiated by the parents and approved by the court.
  3. The father’s removal of the children was an abduction, not a retention. I reject his evidence that he only decided to keep them after they arrived in Russia. When he took the children from London, he had no intention of returning them. He had planned it for months, lulling the mother into a false sense of security so that she would agree to the holiday he proposed.
  4. The father’s characterisation of Daniel Jakob and Jonathan as Russian children is a self-indulgent delusion. Of course they have a Russian parent, albeit he himself has lived most of his adult life elsewhere. But until December 2012, when they were aged 6½ and 4½, the boys had always lived in Switzerland and England. They had never even visited Russia. Their Russian heritage is important, but it has been played upon by the father because it is the one thing that he can offer that the mother cannot.
  5. Having successfully got hold of the children, the father set about strengthening his position by engaging in a series of cynical manoeuvres, delaying tactics and deceptions that he knew the mother would be powerless to oppose. He was only willing to accommodate her in the children’s lives if she came to live in Russia, where she would be under his control. When she would not agree, her access to the children was strictly limited, and then stopped altogether. In doing this, the father counted on his legal position in Russia being secure. I find that he intended to keep the children indefinitely, and was only frustrated by the determined actions of the Russian authorities.
  6. The father claims that his actions were influenced by Russian legal advice. I do not accept that he ever genuinely considered his position to be legitimate. He is a man who relies on advice that suits him and ignores advice that does not. He flouted every order of this court and when faced with orders of the Russian courts, he went underground. His excuse for this (danger from unidentified persons) is a bogus invention, but the children were not to know that. They were brainwashed into believing that they were being pursued by dangerous bandits, including their mother. The seriousness of this is not only measured by the length of the separation created by the father, but also by his willingness to root the mother out of the children’s lives. This was not just child abduction, it was child abuse.
  7. One of the father’s strategies has been to politicise the children’s situation for his own ends. He took to the Russian media in an attempt to whip up domestic political sentiment by means of deliberate lies, and he delayed the children’s return by obtaining a travel ban. He pursued his goal of keeping control of the children in every legal and illegal way he could devise.
  8. The children and their mother have been profoundly affected by these events. For a year and a half, their lives were turned upside down. The boys were separated from their mother and brother. They were forced to live a bizarre clandestine life, surrounded by lies and cut off from normal existence. It will take a long time for them to come to terms with these experiences.
  9. At this hearing, the father had the opportunity to show regret and insight. Unfortunately, by his written and oral evidence, his questioning of the mother, his submissions, and his decision not to attend the hearing in person, he showed that he has little appreciation of the impact of his actions on anyone else, including the children. The only person he seemed to be really sorry for was his mother. Throughout his evidence he was pedantic, unreliable and untruthful. When confronted methodically with the clearest evidence, his reaction was to misrepresent, prevaricate, minimise, extenuate and contest. There was no sign of any real remorse. So far, his apologies are no more than a means to an end, motivated by disadvantage and the failure of his grand plan. The mother’s perception of him, recorded above at paragraph 112, is in my view justified.
  10. Anyone meeting these parents without knowing the family history is liable to be misled – misled into underestimating past events by the mother’s extraordinary serenity and dignity, and misled into underestimating future risks by the father’s outward appearance of intelligence and courtesy. Given the sustained ruthlessness of his conduct, the risk of further alienation or abduction is high.
  11. The collusion by the father’s family increases those risks. The children’s uncle could have used his influence for good, but instead has chosen to support the father throughout. The grandmother’s conduct can only be described as unworthy of a grandparent.
  12. The next stage of these proceedings concerns the children’s future welfare. However harmful their father’s behaviour has been, he is an important figure for them. Unfortunately, he set about teaching them that they do not need two parents. It will take them time to unlearn that lesson.

 

Happy families are all alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

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.

If you must Hague, don’t be vague

 

The “too long, didn’t read” version – if you’re making an application in the High Court under the Child Abduction and Custody Act 1985, bring your chequebook. And if you’re doing that, and are listed before the Honourable Mr Justice Charles, ring your bank manager first.

 

 

A discussion of the decision in the High Court of B v A 2012

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2012/3127.html

 

As readers of the blog will know, I often lavish praise on High Court Judges. I am fond of High Court Judges who have admirable qualities, such as clarity of thought, beautiful construction of sentences, being able to illuminate a difficult point with a clever analogy, or who are fundamentally kind and appreciate the human dynamics of the cases that appear before them.

 

I am not afraid of distributing praise in those circumstances – I would say fulsome praise, but I am mindful of the words of Inigo Montoya   (no, not, “my name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!”  – the other one)  “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means”

 

Don’t ever say fulsome if you mean generously complimentary….   Or at least, not to a word-geek.

 

 

Anyway, this judgment is by the Honourable Mr Justice Charles and is bloody important for anyone who deals with abduction cases, both solicitors and counsel.

 

 

It would be fair to say that he was irked during the course of this judgment. He considered that insufficient care had been given both to the very serious nature of the application for a location order and to involve the tipstaff, and moreover to the inherent risks of doing so where the initial application was made ex parte, and the facts laid out before the Court were both partial  and potentially partisan.

 

The Judge begins by setting out the reasons why making such orders is extremely serious

 

  • Tipstaff orders, and thus location orders, are (and are designed to be) powerful weapons in the search for children and the determination by the courts of England and Wales of issues relating to their future. They enable public authorities to interfere in the private lives of adults and children and carry serious penalties. It should be known to all judges who grant them that experience has shown that: 

    i) the travelling time of a flight to England can often allow for steps to be taken to meet the relevant adult and child at the airport on arrival, 

    ii) the orders can often be triggered when an adult comes to the notice of the police for some other reason (e.g. a motoring offence), and

    iii) these possible triggers to an order mean that care needs to be taken to ensure that their enforcement (and so possibly an arrest and detention under them) only remains a possibility for as long as they are needed to fulfil their purpose.

     

  • The potentially serious impact of such orders means that those who apply for them and those who grant them should act with caution and due regard to the principles and procedures relating to the grant of relief on a without notice basis (see for example Young v Young [2012] 2 FLR 470 at paragraph 26 (ii) to (v). That case related to a passport order in a case seeking a financial remedy but the same approach is required to a case relating to the alleged abduction of a child or other proceedings relating to a child).

 

Nothing at all to disagree with there.

The Judge was perturbed that an application had been made that was not  constructed as well as it ought to have been. He reminded the applicant’s counsel of a valuable  previous authority B Borough Council v S & Anor [2006] EWHC 2584 (Fam)   dealing specificially with how inappropriate it was for these applications to be made without notice without a great deal of care.

 

  1. General comment on without notice applications


37. There is a natural temptation for applicants to seek, and courts to grant, relief to protect vulnerable persons whether they are children or vulnerable adults. In my view this can lead (and experience as the applications judge confirms that it does lead) to practitioners making without notice applications which are not necessary or appropriate, or which are not properly supported by appropriate evidence. Also there is in my view a general practice of asking the court to grant without notice orders over a fairly extended period with express permission to apply to vary or discharge on an inappropriately long period of notice (often 48 hours). It seems to me that on occasions this practice pays insufficient regard to the interests of both the persons in respect of whom and against whom the orders are made, and that therefore on every occasion without notice relief is sought and granted the choice of the return date and the provisions as to permission to apply should be addressed with care by both the applicants and the court. Factors in that consideration will be an estimation of the effect on the person against whom the order is made of service of the order and how that is to be carried out.

38. Inevitably on a without notice application the court hears from only the applicant. Good practice, fairness and indeed common sense demand that on any such application the applicant should provide the court with:

i) a balanced, fair and particularised account of the events leading up to the application and thus of the matters upon which it is based. In many cases this should include a brief account of what the applicant thinks the respondent’s case is, or is likely to be,

ii) where available and appropriate, independent evidence,

iii) a clear and particularised explanation of the reasons why the application is made without notice and the reasons why the permission to apply to vary or discharge the injunction granted should be on notice (rather than immediately or forthwith as in the standard collection and location orders) and why the return date should not be within a short period of time. As to that I accept and acknowledge that a reference to notice being given if practicable, or for a short period of notice (say 2 working hours or just two hours if a week end or holiday period is imminent), may often provide an appropriate balance to avoid a sequence of effectively without notice applications, and that in some cases a longer period of notice may be appropriate, and

iv) in many cases an account of the steps the applicant proposes concerning service, the giving of an explanation of the order and the implementation of an order. This is likely to be of particular importance in cases such as this one where emotional issues are involved and family members of a person who lacks capacity are the subject of the injunctions and orders. In such cases, as here, information as to those intentions are likely to inform issues as to the need for, and the proportionality of, the relief sought and granted

39. As to point (ii) I pause to mention that in my view it is surprising and disappointing how many times a without notice application for relief is made in the Family Division based only on largely unparticularised assertions by one side of serious allegations without any third party material to support them, or more generally the basis for the relief sought. I appreciate that in many instances there is a very real urgency and there will not be third party evidence of allegations of abusive behaviour that are readily available but in others there will be. A classic example, which occurs regularly, is that an applicant who seeks a return of children to his or her care fails to provide any third party evidence (e.g. from a school, a GP or records in their possession) to confirm that he or she is indeed the primary carer of the relevant children.

40. Guidance has often been given on the information to be provided and the procedure to be followed in seeking without notice relief (see at first instance Re S (a child) (ex parte orders) [2001] 1 WLR 211, [2000] 3 FCR 706, W v H (ex parte injunctions) [2000] 3 FCR 481 (by analogy X Council v B (Emergency Protection Orders) [2005] 1 FLR 341 and Re X (Emergency Protection Orders) [2006] EWHC 510 (Fam)) and in the Court of Appeal Moat Housing v Harris [2005] 2 FLR 551 in particular at paragraphs 63 to 69, and see also the notes to CPR Part 25 and the practice note now reported at [2006] 2 FLR 354).

41. Naturally I endorse that guidance and do not seek to add to it save to emphasise the points made above and to record my own observations that practitioners (a) too regularly do not follow and implement that guidance, and (b) by such failure show an insufficient appreciation of the exceptional nature of without notice relief and the impact it has (or potentially has) on the rights, life and emotions of the persons against whom it is granted.

42. As to this I acknowledge that the courts must take part of the blame for such failures by granting relief without notice in cases when (a) the guidance has not been followed, and (b) the impact on the person against whom the relief is granted could be considerable.

43. I add that additionally there is a need (a) to comply strictly with undertakings given at the time the order is made, and (b) to keep full and proper records of what is put before the court and said to the court. This should include a record of the times of the hearing so that a transcript can be more easily obtained. The availability of a transcript does not however reduce the duty of those applying for without notice relief to keep a full record of what the court was shown and was told.

 

Having quoted those passages, the Judge then indicated that he fully agreed with them    and added to them

 

16. As well as endorsing the guidance set out above, there are three additional comments I would make:

(1) If information is put before the court to substantiate a without notice order, it should be the subject of the closest scrutiny and, if the applicant is not present in person to verify it, be substantiated by production of a contemporaneous note of the instructions. If that is not available, there may need to be a short adjournment to enable steps to be taken to verify the information relied upon.

(2) If additional information is put before the court orally, there must be a direction for the filing of sworn evidence to confirm the information within a very short period of time. If that direction had not been made in this case, the passport order would have been executed when the grounds for obtaining it were simply not there. That would have involved a gross breach of the defendant’s rights, quite apart from the court having been given misleading information.

(3) Lastly, leaving the scrutiny that the court should give to without notice applications to one side, it is incumbent on those advising whether such an application is justified to consider rigorously whether an application is justified and be clear as to the evidential basis for it.”

 

 

 

All very good points, I have been on the other end of a number of ex parte applications, and when you come to Court and outline what the other side of the story is, you often see the Judge’s expression become “Well, if I had known THAT…”  

 

And these applications are of course, an immensely serious interference with someone’s liberty and free movement, and it is therefore important that a great deal of care is taken, both by the advocate presenting the case and by the tribunal determining it.

 

 

The long and short of this case was that the applicant’s representatives ended up not just not getting the order, but with something far, far, far worse than that. Probably the worst outcome you can ever get if you send counsel off to Court to make an application.  

  1. As mentioned in B Borough Council v S, I recognise that there is a natural temptation for applicants to seek, and for courts to grant, relief to protect the vulnerable, and, I add, to find children who it is alleged have been abducted. But this temptation, and the strong public interest in granting such relief, does not provide an excuse for failures to apply the correct approach in law to such applications. Indeed, if anything, the strong public interest in providing such relief and its impact on the subjects of the relief and their families mean that the correct approach in law should be followed and so the sound reasons for it, based on fairness, should be observed. Naturally this applies to all without notice applications, but it can be said to have particular importance when Tipstaff orders are sought and granted because they can found a deprivation of liberty without further court involvement, and they do restrict freedom of movement.
  1. In my view, a practice of granting and continuing Tipstaff orders in Hague Convention cases as a matter of course and without insisting on properly prepared, particularised and updating evidence is to be deprecated.

 

AND

  1. It seems to me that if such failures are to be avoided in the future there is a need for judges:

i) to refuse to make without notice orders if the established principles and procedures are not applied (I and some other judges do this), and

ii) to treat such failures as negligent and thus as a foundation for the exercise of discretion to make a wasted costs order.

  1. Sadly, the first course alone has not resulted in general improvement and it is to be hoped that when the second course is added it will. But, I acknowledge and confirm that this promotional effect is not a ground for making the order rather it is a potential product of making such an order applying the approach set out in Ridehalgh.

 

 

And more chillingly for advocates

 

  1. Generally, a litigant has to take the consequences of such behaviour and look to his advisers for recompense but I have concluded that the application for costs against him should be refused, because:

i) the point that the shortcomings in the presentation of his case by his advisers is a reflection of endemic failures of family practitioners and courts means that his conduct should not be categorised and reprehensible or beyond the band of what is reasonable (see paragraph 80 hereof), and

ii) the policy and merits arguments referred to in paragraphs 82 to 84 support no such order being made.

 

 

Thus it wasn’t the client who was going to be hit for costs, but rather his representatives

 

 

  1. Also, in my view:

i) the merits and policy arguments referred to in paragraphs 82 to 84 above, and

ii) the point that the father’s solicitors are unfortunate to be singled out when their failures to comply with the principles and procedures relating to without notice applications are widespread in the Family Division and were not picked up by a number of judges,  warrant reductions in the costs to be awarded as wasted costs.

  1. Taking the above into account, in respect of the costs schedule up to the hearing on 10 September 2012, I make a wasted costs order against the father’s solicitors in the sum of £18,000 (to include VAT).

 

The Judge had actually knocked quite a bit off the costs to reflect that this was a warning shot across the bows and that the particular advocates involved had not been worse in their failings than many other cases.  But implicit in that is “woe betide”

 

I suspect that there may well be some family barristers who are having gentle chats with their clerks about whether the cab rank rule means that they need to take cases where they are liable to be personally stung for costs of £18,000 plus, and frantic calls to the RCJ list office to determine tribunals might well be being made.

 

I do wonder also whether sufficient weight has been given here to the very nature of the applications – a parent believes their child has been abducted, the child is missing, information is sketchy and develops piecemeal, and often the most strikingly important details emerge during the course of the day and are not necessarily reduced to affidavit form in advance. I also wonder how much better such cases will be presented in the High Court when those advocates who are skilled and accomplished at presenting them no longer want to bear the personal risk of doing so…