Father committed to prison in child abduction case

In the case of Sanchez v. Oboz [2015] EWHC 611 (Fam), judgment in which was given in the High Court on 9 March 2015, Mr Justice Cobb committed a father to prison for 12 months following wardship proceedings.  The father had been ordered more than once to return a child, Isabella, to the UK from Poland, the child having been wrongfully retained in Poland.  He did not.  A fuller description of the facts is available in an earlier judgment in the same case available here.

Not only was the father committed to prison but the child was named and her photograph issued to the media to try and bring about her return to the UK:  it is unusual for any litigant in the UK to be imprisoned for a contempt of court; it is also very unusual for a child to be publicly named in this way in family proceedings.  This just goes to show how seriously the judge took the father’s conduct, as also borne out by the following remarks in the judgment:

7. Isabella is a three-year old child who, until her unlawful retention in Poland in the summer 2014, was (as she still is) habitually resident in this jurisdiction. It is here that she has her home. I had cause to remark in the case of LBTH v Ali [2014] EWHC 856 (Fam), [2015] 1 FLR 205 that untold damage is done to children who are spirited away from one country to another, without warning or preparation; disruption to their routines, the predictability of their lives, their family relationships and social relationships, and to their schooling is inevitable. Parents who remove children from their home environments in this way cannot go unpunished.

8.  I stand by those words. The wilful retention of a child abroad in circumstances such as these is child abduction of the most heinous kind; it is an act of emotional abuse to the child. In this case, Isabella has been deprived of her relationship with her mother who until her unlawful retention in Poland was her primary carer; she has been denied the regularity of an environment which is familiar to her.

9.  The father has been defiant in subverting the English court orders. I am wholly satisfied that he was, and is, fully aware that he has been required to return Isabella to this country; he has chosen to turn his face against the English law. By adjourning today’s sentence I gave the father opportunity to return Isabella &/or to come to court to explain himself &/or to offer some mitigation for his conduct. He has chosen to do none of these things.

10.  I have had regard to the guidance offered by Hale LJ as she then was in Hale v Tanner [2000] 2 FLR 879. I have not assumed that imprisonment is the automatic punishment for breach of a family court order. However, I am satisfied that an immediate sentence of imprisonment is entirely justified on the facts of this case.

11.  A sentence of 12 months imprisonment reflects the intrinsic gravity of the father’s breaches and marks the disapproval of this Court. That is the sentence which I impose. The father, once apprehended, will serve half of that time in custody; he will have the opportunity to come to the court to seek to purge his contempt if he chooses to do so.


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