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See-Saw

 

Although the President reads this blog or at the very least is aware that it is “a well-known and respected law blog”* :-

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/1668.html

 

(*sadly that’s probably stronger empirical proof that he DOESN’T read it)

 

my beautiful piece of legislation, the Residence Schemesidence Act is still not on the statute books.  To gaze upon my works, ye mighty and despair, look here

 

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/07/03/the-residenceschmesidence-act-2015/

 

Instead of which, we have this distillation of the many principles on habitual residence in family law, derived from a variety of judicial authorities.  Now, bear in mind that this distillation is the work of someone extremely dilligent and bright and who slaved long and hard to make the judicial authorities as SIMPLE as possible.

 

B (A Minor : Habitual Residence) [2016] EWHC 2174 (Fam)

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2174.html

 

  • In her document Ms Chokowry distils a number of propositions that she contends can be gleaned from the five Supreme Court judgments, addressing habitual residence, delivered since 2013: A v A and another (Children: Habitual Residence) (Reunite International Child Abduction Centre and others intervening) [2013] UKSC 60, [2014] AC 1, sub nom Re A (Children) (Jurisdiction: Return of Child) [2014] 1 FLR 111 (“A v A”); In re L (A Child) (Custody: Habitual Residence) (Reunite International Child Abduction Centre intervening) [2013] UKSC 75, [2014] AC 1017, sub nom Re KL (A Child) (Abduction: Habitual Residence: Inherent Jurisdiction) [2014] 1 FLR 772 (“Re KL”); In re LC (Children) (Reunite International Child Abduction Centre intervening) [2014] UKSC 1, [2014] AC 1038 sub nom Re LC (Children) (Abduction: Habitual Residence: State of Mind of Child) (“Re LC”); In re R (Children) (Reunite International Child Abduction Centre and others intervening) [2015] UKSC 35, [2016] AC 76, sub nom AR v RN (Habitual Residence) [2015] 2 FLR 503 (“Re R”); Re B (A child) (Habitual Residence: Inherent Jurisdiction) [2016] UKSC 4, [2016] 2 WLR 557 (“Re B”).
  • I think that Ms Chokowry’s approach is sensible and, adopt it here, with my own amendments:

 

i) The habitual residence of a child corresponds to the place which reflects some degree of integration by the child in a social and family environment (A v A, adopting the European test).

ii) The test is essentially a factual one which should not be overlaid with legal sub-rules or glosses. It must be emphasised that the factual enquiry must be centred throughout on the circumstances of the child’s life that is most likely to illuminate his habitual residence (A v A, Re KL).

iii) In common with the other rules of jurisdiction in Brussels IIR its meaning is ‘shaped in the light of the best interests of the child, in particular on the criterion of proximity’. Proximity in this context means ‘the practical connection between the child and the country concerned’: A v A (para 80(ii)); Re B (para 42) applying Mercredi v Chaffe at para 46).

iv) It is possible for a parent unilaterally to cause a child to change habitual residence by removing the child to another jurisdiction without the consent of the other parent (Re R);

v) A child will usually but not necessarily have the same habitual residence as the parent(s) who care for him or her (Re LC). The younger the child the more likely the proposition, however, this is not to eclipse the fact that the investigation is child focused. It is the child’s habitual residence which is in question and, it follows the child’s integration which is under consideration.

vi) Parental intention is relevant to the assessment, but not determinative (Re KL, Re R and Re B);

vii) It will be highly unusual for a child to have no habitual residence. Usually a child lose a pre-existing habitual residence at the same time as gaining a new one (Re B); (emphasis added);

viii) In assessing whether a child has lost a pre-existing habitual residence and gained a new one, the court must weigh up the degree of connection which the child had with the state in which he resided before the move (Re B – see in particular the guidance at para 46);

ix) It is the stability of a child’s residence as opposed to its permanence which is relevant, though this is qualitative and not quantitative, in the sense that it is the integration of the child into the environment rather than a mere measurement of the time a child spends there (Re R and earlier in Re KL and Mercredi);

x) The relevant question is whether a child has achieved some degree of integration in social and family environment; it is not necessary for a child to be fully integrated before becoming habitually resident (Re R) (emphasis added);

xi) The requisite degree of integration can, in certain circumstances, develop quite quickly (Art 9 of BIIR envisages within 3 months). It is possible to acquire a new habitual residence in a single day (A v A; Re B). In the latter case Lord Wilson referred (para 45) those ‘first roots‘ which represent the requisite degree of integration and which a child will ‘probably‘ put down ‘quite quickly‘ following a move;

xii) Habitual residence was a question of fact focused upon the situation of the child, with the purposes and intentions of the parents being merely among the relevant factors. It was the stability of the residence that was important, not whether it was of a permanent character. There was no requirement that the child should have been resident in the country in question for a particular period of time, let alone that there should be an intention on the part of one or both parents to reside there permanently or indefinitely (Re R).

xiii) The structure of Brussels IIa, and particularly Recital 12 to the Regulation, demonstrates that it is in a child’s best interests to have an habitual residence and accordingly that it would be highly unlikely, albeit possible (or, to use the term adopted in certain parts of the judgment, exceptional), for a child to have no habitual residence; As such, “if interpretation of the concept of habitual residence can reasonably yield both a conclusion that a child has an habitual residence and, alternatively, a conclusion that he lacks any habitual residence, the court should adopt the former” (Re B supra);

 

  • If there is one clear message emerging both from the European case law and from the Supreme Court, it is that the child is at the centre of the exercise when evaluating his or her habitual residence. This will involve a real and detailed consideration of (inter alia): the child’s day to day life and experiences; family environment; interests and hobbies; friends etc. and an appreciation of which adults are most important to the child. The approach must always be child driven. I emphasise this because all too frequently and this case is no exception, the statements filed focus predominantly on the adult parties. It is all too common for the Court to have to drill deep for information about the child’s life and routine. This should have been mined to the surface in the preparation of the case and regarded as the primary objective of the statements. I am bound to say that if the lawyers follow this approach more assiduously, I consider that the very discipline of the preparation is most likely to clarify where the child is habitually resident. I must also say that this exercise, if properly engaged with, should lead to a reduction in these enquiries in the courtroom. Habitual residence is essentially a factual issue, it ought therefore, in the overwhelming majority of cases, to be readily capable of identification by the parties. Thus:

 

i) The solicitors charged with preparation of the statements must familiarise themselves with the recent case law which emphasises the scope and ambit of the enquiry when assessing habitual residence, (para 17 above maybe a convenient summary);

ii) If the statements do not address the salient issues, counsel, if instructed, should bring the failure to do so to his instructing solicitors attention;

iii) An application should be made expeditiously to the Court for leave to file an amended statement, even though that will inevitably result in a further statement in response;

iv) Lawyers specialising in these international children cases, where the guiding principle is international comity and where the jurisdiction is therefore summary, have become unfamiliar, in my judgement, with the forensic discipline involved in identifying and evaluating the practical realities of children’s lives. They must relearn these skills if they are going to be in a position to apply the law as it is now clarified.

The simple message must get through to those who prepare the statements that habitual residence of a child is all about his or her life and not about parental dispute. It is a factual exploration.

 

 

I greatly admire Hayden J here for being able to spell out those THIRTEEN principles and then in the next breath use words like ‘clear’ and ‘simple’.

 

Anyway, with those 13 principles in our mind – we’re now super confident that we can deal with any question on habitual residence.

 

Let us examine the facts of the case at hand

 

 

  • Mr Gration, who appears on the half of the mother, has provided a convenient chronology setting out the extent of B’s travels. I pause to note that neither the mother nor the father seemed to have any sense that this level of chaos in their child’s life might be detrimental to her welfare. Indeed, the mother seems to have believed that the opportunities for travel, before she started school, were a good thing for her daughter. I emphasise that B is, at the time of this hearing, still only 3 ½ years old.
  • Another striking fact of this case is that both parent’s call their child by a different name. The father was asked, by Mr Gration, whether he thought that was a bad thing for his daughter. He responded that he had come to realise, during the course of these proceedings, that other people might think this was a bad idea and he volunteered, in future, to call his daughter by the mother’s chosen name. Mr Gration submits that this reveals little insight into the needs of a child. In addition I also note that when in her father’s care, B has found herself cared for, for quite long periods by babysitters that the father has engaged to look after her and who sometimes have been entirely unknown to her.
  • Mr Gration’s chronology, which is agreed, requires to be stated in full:

 

a) November 2014 – December 2014, to Amiens, France with the mother and the father;

b) 19th December 2014 – 21st January 2015 to London, England with the father;

c) 21st January 2015 – 24th January 2015 to Lille, France with the father;

d) 24th January 2015 – 9th February 2015 to Italy with the father;

e) 9th February 2015 – 16th February 2015 to Paris, France with the father;

f) 16th February 2015 – 18th February 2015 to London with the father;

g) 18th February 2015 in London with the mother;

h) 20th February 2015 – 6th March 2015 to Paris, France with the mother;

i) 6th March 2015 – 28th March 2015 in London with the father;

j) 28th March 2015 – 8th May 2015 to Senegal with the father;

k) 8th May 2015 – 5th June 2015 in London with the father;

l) 5th June 2015 – 22nd July 2015 to Paris, France with the mother;

m) 22nd July 2015 – 29th October 2015 in New York, USA with the mother;

n) 30th October 2015 – 31st October 2015 to Paris, France with the mother;

o) 31st October 2015 – 11th January 2016 in London, at times with the father but also being cared for by others;

p) 11th January 2016 – 13th March 2016 to Senegal with the father.

 

  • By way of completeness it should be added to the above that between the 13th March 2016 and 22nd April 2016 B was in London with the father.

 

 

Erm, yeah

 

 

With masterful understatement, Hayden J says this:-

 

It is obvious from the chronology that B’s habitual residence does not reveal itself instantly.

 

(I applaud, but ‘back it up’ also works)

 

Moving on to the see-saw

 

 

  • In my review of the case law I note the observations of Lord Wilson in Re B (a child) (supra):

 

“Simple analogies are best: consider a see-saw. As, probably quite quickly, he puts down those first roots which represent the requisite degree of integration in the environment of the new state, up will probably come the child’s roots in that of the old state to the point at which he achieves the requisite de-integration (or, better, disengagement) from it.”

Well, you know, I’m the dude who explained adoption law with a riff about iguanadons, so I’m perhaps not the UK spokesman for simple analogies. But I have to confess that I’m not sure where the see-saw analogy gets us to with that sort of chronology.

The sensible conclusion, with that sort of chronology is that for the best part of 18 months, this child never had a settled COUNTRY never mind home. The longest B ever goes is about three months before moving across the Atlantic one way or another.

The Judge applies the 13 principles and comes down on London as being the habitual residence.  I think you could make a case for New York, London, Paris (not Munich, annoyingly) or Senegal.

Whereas on my rules, probably Paul Young gets some new fans, and the child is habitually resident in Dudley.  On the plus side, the complexity of habitual residence law now means that you can ALWAYS make some sort of argument and run up a huge legal bill and squander the scarce resources of the High Court. Oh wait, that’s not actually on the plus side column.

Er, okay, on the plus side, if you read out the case headnote, 2016 EWHC 2174 (fam), the last bit makes you sound ‘street’, because “Fam” is slang now.  (Like ‘blud’  or ‘bred’ren’ or ‘squad’ or indeed ‘homies’ if you’re taking it back to the old school).

Suesspicious Minds –  law blogger  (Fam)

 

 

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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.

 

Ambassador, with these Brussels 2 applications you are really spoiling us

The potential impact of the High Court decision in Re T (A Child Article 15 of BR2) 2013

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/521.html

An interesting  (if somewhat dry) one, brought about by the intervention of the Slovak authorities in care proceedings in England.

It seems (and one can understand why when one looks at their recent experiences) that the Slovak authorities aren’t that taken with the way care proceedings concerning their citizens are being conducted in England.

In this case, both parents were Slovak, although living in England, and the child had been conceived in Slovakia. In fact, the Slovak authorities had had the mother in care in a children’s home,  become aware that the mother was pregnant and sought to place her in another children’s home that had special provision for underage mothers.

The mother ran away and came to England.

3. Shortly beforehand on 19 May 2008 a court in Michalovce, Slovakia ordered that the mother be placed in a crisis centre following certain allegations by her against her stepfather and mother. In July 2008 the relationship between the mother and father began. The mother was then aged 13, the father 16. On 14 January 2009 the Michalovce District Court made an order placing the mother in the children’s home in that city.

In July 2011 the mother fell pregnant and on 30 November 2011 the Michalovce District Court ordered that the mother be transferred to the children’s home in Kosice which had a special unit for underage mothers. It was from there on 29 February 2012 that the mother ran away with the father and travelled to this country which she entered on false papers. The mother and father went to the town where her family were living, and it was there on 22 April 2012 that T was born.

4. It was not only on account of the mother’s young age that the local authority was concerned for the newly born infant. Almost from the moment of their arrival here in 2008 protective measures had been taken in relation to the mother’s siblings and this led to all or some of them being made the subject of care orders in 2010. I have not been given the details. At all events the local authority undertook a core assessment immediately following T’s birth and only allowed the mother to take him to her own mother’s home on discharge from hospital on 4 May 2012 on the basis that the mother signed a “contract of expectations”. Unfortunately as a result of various intra-familial disputes the placement broke down and ultimately on 18 May 2012 the mother and T moved to a Mother and Baby Unit for a 12 week period of assessment pursuant to an agreement made under section 20 of the Children Act 1989.

However, on 23 May 2012 the mother left the unit leaving the baby behind, and although she returned the following day she left again finally on 27 May 2012, complaining that the place was like a prison. Care proceedings commenced in England, and by the time of this application had reached the point where all assessments were completed, and the recommendation of the Local Authority in England, and the Guardian was that the child should be adopted.

The Slovakian authorities sought the return of the mother (and also later the child) to their country, so that decisions could be made in Slovakia relating to them both, and made an application under Article 15 of Brussels 2 On 19 July 2012 the Director of the children’s home in Kosice wrote to the local authority stating “our interest is that the mother be returned to the children’s home, as she is entrusted to our care by the courts”. Later the authorities in Slovakia expanded this to seek the return of T also.

On 27 September 2012 the children’s home informed the Slovakian Central Office of Labour, Social Affairs and Family (which I take to be the relevant government Ministry) of the circumstances of the case and on 3 October 2012 the Slovakian Central Authority received a report from the Ministry about the mother and T. The Slovakian Central Authority contacted the Central Authority (ICACU) here on 5 October 2012. On 18 January 2013 a lengthy letter entitled “Intervention of the Slovak Central Authority” was received by the court authored by Andrea Cisarova. This has been supplemented by two further detailed submissions dated 21 February 2013 and 8 March 2013.

In these documents the Slovakian Central Authority forcefully argues that under EU law, equally applicable in Slovakia and this country, the mother and T are both habitually resident in Slovakia; the mother is the subject of an order which is entitled to recognition and enforcement here; and that this is a case where a request should be made by this court under article 15 of Regulation Brussels II Revised[1] for a transfer to the Slovakian courts of the proceedings concerning T.

Like most lawyers who don’t specialise in international law, I hear the phrase “Brussels II” and have to suppress a shudder. It normally means that things are going to get fearfully complex.

In this case, what it meant was that the Slovak authorities were asking the English Court to relinquish the case over to them. The mother was agreeing to the order of the Slovak courts that she return and live in the children’s home.

Article 15 provides

9. “Transfer to a court better placed to hear the case

1. By way of exception, the courts of a Member State having jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter may, if they consider that a court of another Member State, with which the child has a particular connection, would be better placed to hear the case, or a specific part thereof, and where this is in the best interests of the child:

(a) stay the case or the part thereof in question and invite the parties to introduce a request before the court of that other Member State … ; or

(b) request a court of another Member State to assume jurisdiction …

2. Paragraph 1 shall apply: (a) upon application from a party; or (b) of the court’s own motion; or (c) upon application from a court of another Member State with which the child has a particular connection, in accordance with paragraph

3. A transfer made of the court’s own motion or by application of a court of another Member State must be accepted by at least one of the parties.

3. The child shall be considered to have a particular connection to a Member State as mentioned in paragraph 1, if that Member State:

(a) has become the habitual residence of the child after the court referred to in paragraph 1 was seised; or

(b) is the former habitual residence of the child; or

(c) is the place of the child’s nationality; or

(d) is the habitual residence of a holder of parental responsibility; or

(e) is the place where property of the child is located and the case concerns measures for the protection of the child relating to the administration, conservation or disposal of this property.

4. The court of the Member State having jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter shall set a time limit by which the courts of that other Member State shall be seised in accordance with paragraph 1. If the courts are not seised by that time, the court which has been seised shall continue to exercise jurisdiction in accordance with Articles 8 to 14.

5. The courts of that other Member State may, where due to the specific circumstances of the case, this is in the best interests of the child, accept jurisdiction within six weeks of their seisure in accordance with paragraph 1(a) or 1(b). In this case, the court first seised shall decline jurisdiction. Otherwise, the court first seised shall continue to exercise jurisdiction in accordance with Articles 8 to 14.

6. The courts shall cooperate for the purposes of this Article, either directly or through the central authorities designated pursuant to Article 53.”

Mr Justice Mostyn, who heard this case, picked over the existing sole authority in English law on article 15 [AB v JLB [2008] EWHC 2965 (Fam) [2009] 1 FLR 517 ]   and drew from it the three questions that had to be answered by the Court who were dealing with the application

10. i) First, it must determine whether the child has, within the meaning of Article 15(3), “a particular connection” with the relevant other member State – here, the United Kingdom. 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))?

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.”

11. In paragraph 36 Munby J pointed out that even if affirmative answers were given to all of the three questions there remains a discretion whether or not to request a transfer. However he observed that if all the questions were answered affirmatively it was difficult to envisage circumstances where it would nonetheless be appropriate not to transfer the case.

He then went on to consider the application of article 15 to care cases and distilled the following principles

24. ) Article 15 applies to public law as well as private law proceedings.

ii) As a precondition the court must be satisfied within the meaning of Article 15(3), that the child has “a particular connection” with the relevant other member state.

iii) The applicant must satisfy this court that the other court would be better placed to hear the case (or a specific part thereof). In making this evaluation the applicant must show that the other court is clearly the more appropriate forum.

iv) In assessing the appropriateness of each forum, the court must discern the forum with which the case has the more real and substantial connection in terms of convenience, expense and availability of witnesses.

v) If the court were to conclude that the other forum was clearly more appropriate, it should issue the transfer request and grant a stay unless other more potent factors were to drive the opposite result.

vi) In the exercise to be conducted at (iii) – (v), the best interests of the child is an important, but not the paramount, consideration.

vii) In making the best interests analysis at (vi) the court will not embark on a profound investigation of the child’s situation and upbringing but will dwell in an attenuated inquiry upon the sort of considerations which come into play when deciding upon the most appropriate forum.

What was particularly interesting in this case was that the Slovak approach was for mother and child to live together, albeit in a children’s home and given a long process of assessment and testing and support with a view to keeping the family together long-term, whereas the approach of the English professionals was that the mother could not meet his needs and keep him safe and that adoption was the only viable plan.

Thus a transfer to a different jurisdiction was not merely having a different Court with different laws determine the case, but a profoundly different outcome for the child. The direction of travel for either jurisdiction was very clearly laid out.

The High Court looked at the arguments put forward by both parties

31. The Slovakian Central Authority, supported by the parents, argues for a transfer for the following reasons:

i) Both parents and the child are Slovakian citizens. The habitual residence of the mother is Slovakia. The child’s habitual residence is, she argues, Slovakia.

ii) The parents only speak Slovakian. Any proceedings in Slovakia will be in their own language. Similarly any further assessments in Slovakia would be undertaken in their own language.

iii) The mother has agreed to return to Slovakia and to the children’s home to which she has been committed by a court order

iv) T has not been put in a permanent placement and a further move for him will have to take place in any event.

32. The Slovakian Central Authority has outlined the plan for the mother and T were they to return to their native country. They will be placed in the children’s home in Kosice where they will live in a small community with at most four other under-age mothers with their children. They will be cared for 24 hours a day by six child care professionals who will help them to provide care for their minor children. In this way the minor mothers learn to care for their children to create emotional bonds and to achieve parental skills. Psychological and special pedagogical care will be provided and the minor mother will have the opportunity of completing her education.

33. Of course it is accepted by all that this process is fundamentally one of assessment and that were a transfer to be made the court in Slovakia would have to decide whether reunification was possible in the long-term or whether T would have to be permanently placed with alternative parents.

34. In my opinion the plan I have outlined above best promotes the possibility of preserving this child’s Slovakian and Roma heritage. In his skeleton argument counsel for the child stated that “whilst of course there are additional welfare factors because of T’s Slovakian heritage, fundamentally he is a child like any other”. This struck me as a profoundly culture-blind statement. I do regard the promotion of this child’s heritage as being of great importance and I do not consider that the case of either the local authority or the Guardian has sufficient regard to that factor.

35. Additionally, I would observe that it is doubtful that either of these parents or indeed the child is lawfully present in this country under the terms of the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006 S.I. 2006 No. 1003.

36. Leading Counsel for the local authority argues that the Slovakian plan would not be in the child’s best interests because it represents but a single inflexible option. This was the central part of his argument and so in fairness to him I set out the relevant paragraphs of his skeleton (as modified in oral submissions) in full:

The transfer of jurisdiction proposal carries with it only one plan, only one option.

The type of assessment proposed under the Slovak plan has already been tried at the Mother and Baby Unit. The Mother left the unit to be with the Father.

Previously she had run away from the Mother and Baby unit at the Kosice Children’s Home to be with the Father. She has consistently in Rotherham refused offers of accommodation on her own because she wants to live with the Father.

The prospects of her remaining without the Father at the Kosice unit for assessment are not sufficiently good to make it in the Child’s interests to try this because of the damage that will be done to him in the process.

The Child has a good, healthy attachment to his foster carer. He is at the age when he has the opportunity to transfer that attachment to another care-giver. If he is enabled to transfer this attachment to his new permanent carer, the prospects for his emotional wellbeing are good. If he is not able to do this successfully, the risk is that he will shut down emotionally and permanent damage will be done to the future prospects of any successful attachment to any carer.

The Slovakian plan involves the Child being placed with his Mother as his primary carer, albeit with professional supervision.

The observations of contact between the Child and his Mother show that he will be seriously distressed if he is placed in his Mother’s full-time care. Despite her best efforts, she is unable to soothe and calm him. He will often not accept care, such as feeding, from her. If the Mother and the Child are put in this position full-time, the distress caused to the Mother is likely to make her chances of caring successfully for the Child even less.

The Mother herself believes that the best way forward would be for Child to be in foster care initially in Slovakia in order to build up contact with her.

The Child suffers from herpes which flares up from time to time. The stress of leaving his foster carer and being placed in his Mother’s care is likely to cause his herpes to flare up. This will add to the difficulty of caring for him and the stress caused to the Mother. If he needed hospital treatment in Slovakia, the disruption to him and stress will be increased.

The further assessment is, in any event, unnecessary given the assessment work which has been done with the parents already. There is already sufficient information before the Court to establish that the parents cannot offer the Child the care he needs.

It is not in his best interests to take risks with his long term emotional welfare and ability to form attachments to a permanent carer and to cause delay in the final decision-taking for him. The prospects of success for the Mother/ Parents are not sufficiently good to warrant taking those risks.

37. It can be seen that this argument comes very close to the profound best interests enquiry concerning the child’s future care which Lady Hale emphatically said should not happen in Re I. Basically, it is a chauvinistic argument which says that the authorities of the Republic of Slovakia have got it all wrong and that we know better how to deal with the best interests of this Slovakian citizen. I completely disagree with this approach. The analysis of best interests only goes to inform the question of forum and should not descend to some kind of divisive value judgement about the laws and procedures of our European neighbours.

38. It can fairly be said that the local authority witnesses on events in T’s short life are all here speaking of events here and that this militates in favour of this court being the more appropriate forum. However, it is obvious that if this case is transferred to Slovakia there will not be any substantive court case as the parents will surely accept the plan of the Slovakian authorities. Only if that further assessment and attempted reunification fails is there likely to be a contested case in Slovakia; and that case will surely be focusing on the most recent Slovakian assessment and the reasons for its failure rather than historical assessments over here.

39. I conclude that all the requirements of article 15 when read conformably with the principles set out by Wilson J are satisfied in this case and that the transfer request should be issued. The proceedings will be stayed but T will remain where he is under a sequence of interim care orders made administratively until the Slovakian court makes a decision about his interim arrangement. Of course in the event that the Slovakian court declines the request then the matter must be restored to this court for final determination.

And of course, the significant matter there is the Court’s determination that it would be for the Slovakian authorities to determine whether the child could remain with the mother, and that in the event of a dispute on that, and proceedings being issued it would be the Slovak assessment and evidence which would be relevant, and not those matters which had occurred in England. The case was duly transferred to Slovakia – although the child had never spent a day in Slovakia and was not habitually resident there, Mostyn J found that the child had NO habitual residence anywhere, and was thus captured by Article 13.

[It was pretty clear from the judgment that although Mostyn found himself to be bound by the Court of Appeal authority in ZA & Anor v NA [2012] EWCA Civ 1396 that a person or child cannot be habitually resident in a country they had never lived in, he wasn’t of the same opinion, and favoured the dissenting judgment of that authority. This child of course, had been living in England for 11 months by the time of the judgment…]

This is a peculiar one – mother was really giving up her life here to go and live in a restrictive environment in Slovakia in order to keep her child with her, although she had herself fled that environment previously.

So, the question arises – if you are representing parents in care proceedings who are from another jurisdiction [where Brussels II applies], and they would be willing to return to that jurisdiction, is it worth approaching that embassy to see if they would be willing to apply under Article 15 to take over the case?

It will depend very much on the circumstances, but is probably something which needs more consideration than one might normally give it. If the Courts are willing to move the case over when the care plans are so divergent, it may be a way of achieving parent and child being together that is more effective than challenging the making of orders in the English courts.