Justice Ministry panel looks to enforce custody transfers in absence of uncooperative parents

Justice Ministry panel looks to enforce custody transfers in absence of uncooperative parents

KYODO, JIJI

A government panel is considering making it easier for children to be handed over to parents who have secured custody even if the former spouse defies a court order to let them go, sources close to the matter said Tuesday.

The Justice Ministry advisory panel plans to allow the hand-over of children to parents who have won custody, even in the absence of the parent defying the court order, the sources said.

In September the panel said that, in principle, removal of children by court officials would be possible only if the parent currently living with the children is present at the time.

But the panel is now proposing that only the presence of the parent who won custody is required.

The panel reviewed an earlier report after critics said the parent who had lost custody may intentionally hide to prevent the hand-over of children, and that the absence of such parents has prevented transfer of custody in the past.

Japanese legislation implementing the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is expected to be revised as it currently requires the parent living with the children to be at the scene when children are handed over to the parent with legal custody.

“I hope to see an effective (legal revision) that will also give maximum consideration to the mental and physical well-being of children,” Justice Minister Yoko Kamikawa told a news conference Tuesday.

The convention, to which Japan acceded in 2014, set out rules and procedures to allow for the prompt return of children under 16 taken or retained by one parent to the country of habitual residence, if requested by the other parent.

There is currently no stipulation in Japan’s legal system regarding parents who do not abide by court orders to hand over children to their former spouse. Such disputes have been handled based on regulations regarding the seizure of assets.

According to the proposal in the interim report, divorced parents who defy a court order and refuse to let their children go would be fined until they yield, in order to encourage them to voluntarily abide by the court decision. After compiling a fresh outline that includes the latest review the panel is set to submit its proposal to the Justice Ministry, possibly in autumn.

Last month, the U.S. State Department listed Japan as one of the countries showing a pattern of noncompliance with the Hague treaty in its annual report on the issue.

It said that Japan has made “measurable progress” since 2014, but pointed out the lack of “effective means” to enforce court return orders.

Source:  “Justice Ministry panel looks to enforce custody transfer in absence of unco-operative parents”, The Japan Times, 26 June 2018 (see also Brian Prager’s comment below the article)

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Two abduction-related articles in today’s Japan Times

There were two parental child abduction-related articles published in today’s Japan Times.

 
The first was by Professor Colin Jones, who regularly writes about the subject. Writing about the James Cook case – which was addressed by him before. Here, he writes of Cook’s (what will be) futile attempt to impeach the Supreme Court justices who ultimately found against him. That such an attempt is made at all shows how set in their ways the Japanese judiciary is.

 
The second piece, though not on child abduction specifically does address the treatment of children post a divorce in Japan. According to the Japanese Bengoshi who wrote the piece, the views of a 15 year old and above child will take “paramount importance” in determining what will happen in terms of custody. If aged between 10 and 15 the views of the child are “supposed to be respected” but if the child is under 10 “the probability that the mother wins custody is over 80.” If these arbitrary demarcations based on age were entirely accurate, that would in itself be somewhat disconcerting but the reality is that in most cases the child will stay with the parent with physical custody, invariably the mother. That the article says nothing about contact/visitation for the non-resident parent and also ignores the reality, particularly prevalent in abduction cases (such cases of course occur within Japan as well), of parental alienation.

 
Overall, the content of both articles is unsurprising but say a lot about how the judiciary conducts itself in Japan.

Step forward for campaign to close legal ‘loophole’ on child abduction in Scotland | HeraldScotland

27th May 2018
Step forward for campaign to close legal ‘loophole’ on child abduction in Scotland
Peter Swindon @PeterSwindon
Senior reporter, Sunday Herald

CAMPAIGNERS against abduction of children by a parent have hailed a Scottish Government consultation on a change in the law as a “positive development”.
Scottish minsters are under pressure to close a “loophole” which means a parent can’t always be prosecuted if they take a child overseas from Scotland without the consent of the other parent.
If a child is taken overseas from England and Wales it is a criminal offence under the Child Abduction Act 1984 but the law only applies in Scotland if a court order preventing travel is already in place.

Lawyer Yousif Ahmed, from Glasgow, is leading a campaign to remove the requirement for a court order so that Scotland’s law on child abduction is brought into line with the rest of the UK.
A meeting between campaigners and Scottish Government officials was held this week after it was announced that the so-called loophole will be examined as part of a wider consultation on family law reform.
Ahmed said: “The current Scottish framework fails to protect children and parents in Scotland and far too many children and parents have been let down by a loophole that fails to protect them from this abuse.
“Scottish ministers need to take action to address this ongoing problem. In a joint effort, we have highlighted in great detail the various shortcomings and failures that exist in the Scottish framework and the changes that are needed.
“The Scottish Government has heard the voice of the campaign and has taken our message on board. We are very pleased that as a result of our campaign work, it has now issued a consultation on proposals to reform the law. This is a fantastic achievement within a short space of time.”
Scottish Government figures show the number of international child abduction cases have risen over the last 10 years, from two cases in 2007 to 20 cases in 2016.
The government consultation on the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 is “seeking views on how civil and criminal child abduction by parents can be further prevented”.

The consultation states there may be a need for a “minor change” to Section 2 of the 1995 Act which would mean a court order is no longer required for it to be an offence to remove a child from Scotland without appropriate consent.
Ahmed, who is director of legal services at Cannons Law Practice, added: “I would ask everyone to get behind this extremely positive development by encouraging the Scottish Government to implement the proposals set out in the consultation and effect the positive legislative change that is needed in Scotland.
“Together, we can make a difference and achieve a positive and lasting change that will help to protect children and parents all across the country from this abuse.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “There is already legislation in place making it an offence in Scotland for a person connected with a child under 16 to take or send the child out of the UK without the appropriate consent where a court order is in place awarding custody of the child to another person or prohibiting removal of the child from the UK.
“Depending on the circumstances of the case, someone suspected of child abduction may also be charged with the common law offences of abduction or plagium.
“The consultation on the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 seeks views on a range of issues, including whether to change the law in Scotland on parental child abduction and we welcome the constructive contribution from campaigners on this issue.”

 

Source:  “Step forward for campaign to close ‘legal loophole’ on child abduction in Scotland”,  The Sunday Herald, 27 May 2018

Canadian Supreme Court decision – Office of the Children’s Lawyer v. Balev (and others)

The Supreme Court of Canada has now given judgment in the appeal that I posted about last November. The decision of the majority – it was a split court – is not an altogether welcome one in terms of the guidance that it has provided for deciding future cases.

The case concerned Canada and Germany.  The former couple concerned had two children.  They had, latterly, been living in Germany but were not doing well in school and the father agreed that the mother could take the children to Canada for the 2013-14 academic year on the basis that (subject to any decision on his part to extend the time that the children could spend in Canada) they would then return to Germany.  Anticipating rightly that the children would not be returned, the father issued proceedings under the Hague Convention.

The judge at first instance held that the children should be returned to Germany.  That decision was reversed on appeal to the Ontario Divisional Court which considered that the children were habitually resident in Canada.  The father appealed to the Ontario Court of Appeal which overturned the Divisional Court’s decision, finding that the children had to be returned to Germany.  Before the case reached the Supreme Court – the (now retired) Chief Justice of Canada remarked in her judgment how unacceptable the delay in the case being heard by the Supreme Court was given the issues it involved – the case had become academic.  However the Court still proceeded to determine it.

The sole issue was whether the children had been habitually resident, in Germany, at the time of the wrongful retention in Canada.  The only applicable “exception” to return under the terms of the Convention was objection on the part of the children.  Up until this decision, parental intention held sway:  the children’s return to Canada was “time-limited” so habitual residence did not switch from Germany to Canada.  However, the Court found that cases of this nature should now be decided on the basis of “a multi‑factored hybrid approach”.  Under this approach habitual residence can switch in the case of a time-limited visit abroad.  The effect of this is that a child can then be retained in the country that they were abducted to unless the deciding Court exercises discretion not to return them.  Central to that is the wishes and feelings of the child; if they object and are of a sufficient age and maturity to have their views taken on broad, that might well turn out to be determinative.

The decision is objectionable on two fronts.  First, where a parent in an international marriage agrees in good faith to a child living for a specified amount of time in their partner or former partner’s country (or indeed elsewhere), the child’s habitual residence, crucial to the determination of Hague cases, can switch.  That cannot be right as the move was agreed to be temporary and the Court is allowing a wrong-doing to benefit from the law.  The second concern is that because of this in some cases the wishes and feelings of the children will then become central to the final decision.  In Hague cases – and in family law cases generally – the is always a real risk of parental alienation, an appalling but all to real concept, in which the children are turned against the non-resident parent; as their wishes and feelings will be seen as central (particularly if they are older), that also sets a dangerous precedent.  Cases such as these to need to be resolved on a case-by-case basis; although the Court in this case stressed the importance of the individual circumstances, my fear is that this decision has set a most unfortunate precedent – one that may not be re-visited for many years.

The full decision can be read here.

Japan’s Supreme Court orders a child be sent home in a Hague parental abduction case. Maybe.

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Japan’s Supreme Court orders a child be sent home in a Hague parental abduction case. Maybe.

BY COLIN P.A. JONES

On March 15, Japan’s Supreme Court issued an important decision in a case arising under the Hague Convention on child abduction. Except it wasn’t about the convention, but about habeas corpus. Most press accounts have characterized the ruling as ordering that a child brought to Japan by his mother be returned to the United States, but it’s a bit more complicated.

A pitfall of comparative law is the ease with which familiar-sounding terminology can mislead. “Habeas corpus” is a prime example.

Latin for “produce the body,” habeas corpus is a centuries-old judicial procedure that in the Anglo-American system formed the bedrock of human rights law before the concept of human rights existed. A person subjected to arbitrary, unlawful detention could petition a court to issue a writ of habeas corpus. If the writ was issued, the detainer had to bring the detainee to court and explain the grounds for detention. If the detention was found to be unlawful, the detainee was immediately set free.

In England, habeas corpus led to a number of famous court decisions, such as the 1670 judgment establishing that jurors cannot be punished for their verdict, or the one in a 1772 that said nobody on English soil could be a slave. In the United States, habeas corpus was one of the few provisions about human rights contained in the U.S. Constitution before the Bill of Rights was added. In 2008 it was used to challenge the prolonged detentions without trial of terrorist suspects by the U.S. military at Guantanamo Bay.

Whittling down habeas corpus

Japan also has habeas corpus. Its Habeas Corpus Act was passed in 1948, specifically to give life to the ideals of the freshly minted Japanese Constitution by providing rapid and easy judicial relief for unlawful deprivations of liberty. Depressingly, the legislative history of the act reveals complaints about the old system — police using pretexts to detain suspects for long periods of time, coerced confessions, judges not protecting people’s liberty and so forth — that are similar to those made about the Japanese criminal justice system today.

The Supreme Court immediately used its power to create procedural rules to neuter habeas corpus. One rule it made required courts to reject petitions if there were “any other adequate means whereby relief may be obtained,” unless “it is evident that relief cannot be obtained within reasonable time.” With this, “rapid and easy” relief were excised from the law.

At the time, Japan’s entire code of criminal procedure was also revised to make it consistent with the numerous new constitutional guarantees of personal liberty and procedural justice. So perhaps the court’s thinking was that the procedural protections of the code would make habeas corpus unnecessary in most cases.

Yet seven decades later, the former head of school operator Moritomo Gakuen, Yasunori Kagoike, and his wife have been detained incommunicado for eight months without being put on trial. Ostensibly charged with fraudulently receiving public subsidies, their judicial renditioning is believed by some to be a way to prevent him from disclosing any embarrassing information about dealings with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife. By now, Japanese judges would have approved his prolonged detention multiple times. The Kagoikes’ treatment is not unusual, but habeas corpus is noticeably absent from discussions about him or any of the numerous famous so-called enzaicases — those where suspects were convicted and imprisoned for crimes based on questionable evidence or coerced confessions.

So, it is technically correct to say Japan has habeas corpus. It is also correct to describe the text of the law as providing prompt judicial remedies for unlawful detentions. In fact, habeas corpus offers a wonderful example of how you can state two factually accurate things about the Japanese legal system and still completely mislead your audience.

Old remedy gets second life

The Supreme Court also changed the law through a rule requiring detentions to be “conspicuously unlawful” in order to be eligible for habeas corpus relief. This was significant: “Minor” abuses by police or procedural violations by prosecutors or other judges would not be subjected to scrutiny through a habeas corpus hearing, because the petitions would be rejected for lack of conspicuousness.

It also meant that in the rare case that a petition was granted, the hearing held as a result would be meaningless. Why? Because by granting the petition, the court had already decided the detention was conspicuously unlawful — no bothersome arguing of facts and law in a courtroom for us, please!

The Supreme Court rules created numerous escape hatches for judges to allow even serious deprivations of freedom to continue. Under the rules, a court can grant a remedy other than immediate freedom — for a conspicuously unlawfuldetention! Another rule says that a petition cannot be brought over the objection of a detainee’s freely expressed objections.

Habeas corpus never became the tool for protecting the Japanese people from the state as originally intended. Instead, for several decades it took on an odd second life as an occasional player in custody battles, becoming the means by which estranged parents sought to recover detained children. Courts used habeas corpus proceedings to decide which parent was “better” and should thus raise the children while their divorce was sorted out.

In a 1993 ruling, however, the Supreme Court decided that even in this narrow context habeas corpus was being overused, and henceforth most disputes of this type should be resolved through the less adversarial proceedings of Japan’s family courts, whose specialized personnel had more suitable expertise. This may have had some logic, but if left parents of abducted children with no real remedies, since family court orders involving children — whether about visitation or transferring them from one parent to another — generally have limited enforceability. Habeas corpus had the advantage that failing to bring the detainee (i.e., the child) to court as ordered subjected the detaining person (parent) to the possibility of criminal penalties.

Since 1993, habeas corpus has served as a remedy that might be available after all others at family court have been exhausted. It certainly has not been a “rapid and easy” remedy, since the “conspicuously unlawful” threshold in the Supreme Court was satisfied only after a recalcitrant parent had steadfastly and repeatedly refused to comply with previous court orders. And an order to bring the child to the court meant that whatever hearing the court was supposed to hold was meaningless, since the fact that it was being held meant the result was a foregone conclusion.

‘Conspicuously unlawful’ case

Last month’s Supreme Court ruling concerned a dispute between a Japanese mother and father living in the U.S. Their marriage failing, the mother unilaterally brought the child back to Japan in January 2016. In July of that year, the father sought a return order from the Tokyo Family Court, which was granted in September.

The mother refused to comply, so civil enforcement under Japan’s Hague Convention implementation act was attempted in May 2017. This involved court enforcement officers going to the mother’s residence and seeking to take custody of the child.

The mother continued her resistance, and the enforcement officer had to forcibly enter through the second-floor window and … tried to convince her and the child to cooperate. The mother obstinately clung to the child under a blanket. The enforcement officer gave up and the effort was deemed unsuccessful. This is as far as civil enforcement will get you in a child custody case in Japan.

Finally we get to habeas corpus: A petition to bring the child to court was filed with the Kanazawa Branch of the Nagoya High Court. The court appeared to have done all the things Japanese courts did before the nation joined the Hague Convention — finding conveniently that the child was happy in Japan despite having been born in and spent the first decade of his life in the U.S., and that he didn’t like his dad. Since the child was freely expressing his objections to the petition and given his age and the circumstances, his “detention” by Mom wasn’t deemed to be conspicuously unlawful. Petition denied.

To its credit, not only did the Supreme Court find the lower court in error, it even acknowledged the possibility that children unilaterally deprived of contact with one parent might express views unduly influenced by the other, abducting parent. It questioned whether the child was freely expressing his will, and further noted that in international cases such as these, children face the added burdens of dealing with different cultures and languages and, if they are dual nationals, possibly ultimately a choice in nationality. The court also made a clear ruling that absent special circumstances, failure to comply with a return order under the Hague Convention should be considered “conspicuously unlawful” for the purposes of granting habeas corpus relief.

All good stuff, but the end result was to remand the case back to the lower court so that it could procure the child’s presence in the courtroom and consider the matter further. Given that 18 months has passed since the child’s return was ordered, you have to wonder if that court appearance will actually happen.

Moreover, given that as far back as 2003 the Supreme Court upheld the conviction for international kidnapping of a foreign father trying to remove his child from Japan, it seems odd that it has taken the court so long to conclude that abductions going the other way might be “conspicuously unlawful.”

Habeas corpus could have been used to remedy child abductions to Japan long before the nation signed the Hague Convention. The real problem has always been the judiciary’s lack of willingness to take action. Perhaps this decision is a harbinger of long-overdue change.

Colin P.A. Jones is a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. The views expressed are those of the author alone.

Source:  “Japan’s Supreme Court orders a child be sent home in a Hague parental abduction case.  Maybe”, Colin P A Jones, The Japan Times, 1 April 2018