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