First of all, I want to say sorry for not updating this blog sooner. Hope you had and are having a great summer. I will send you something in the post soon as I always do at this time of the year, including from France (see below).
In March, I attended the 1 KBW conference on international child abduction for the 5th year running. I don’t do it for the CPD points (!); I do it for you. This year I went along with another British father, also a solicitor, who has a son in Japan, younger than you, who he is not able to see either. We went for a chat and drink afterwards. He has taken the lead in actively lobbying the Foreign Office, UK Embassy in Japan and others over the issue of international parental abduction in the context of Japan. Hopefully there will be some positive movement on this soon; he has specifically referred to you in his representations to Paul Madden, the current UK Ambassador to Japan – as I have done previously.
The week before last I spent just under a week in Cannes in southern France. It was really hot and the coastline was absolutely amazing. Here are some photos:
The last one is a hazy view over London on the way back.
Immediately after returning to London, I went down to Hampshire to see your family here. I was able to see your cousin, Olly, as well as other relatives; these photos of Olly were taken earlier in the year:
We have a new Prime Minister in the UK. Bizarrely, one night after leaving work after having just got back from France, I bumped into Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition in the UK. He is the local MP in Islington North, the area where I work. I am not a fan on any reckoning but he gamely agreed to a photo:
I still cannot quite believe it!
Anyway hope all is well with you. It would be lovely to hear from you some time.
‘My ex secretly took our child out of the country’
By Sue Mitchell BBC News
2 August 2018
A mother from Yorkshire has spent 18 months fighting for access to her daughter, who was taken abroad by her ex. Custody battles are always stressful and dealing with foreign courts and lawyers adds extra complications, expense and delays. But as more people take advantage of Europe’s freedom of movement stories like this are becoming more common.
“He didn’t tell me what he was planning,” says Tracy. “He said he was taking her for an overnight stay at his temporary accommodation in Bradford. Looking back, I remember her saying that she didn’t want to go, but I didn’t think anything was wrong. I wanted him to have this contact.
Something was wrong, though, as Tracy soon found out.
“The next morning he called me. He was clearly upset and he told me that they were back in the Czech Republic. I just went into shock. It was the worst moment of my life. I called the police and they spoke to him, but under the international treaty they said there was nothing they could do, even though he’d taken her there without me knowing anything about it.”
Tracy had met her Czech-born partner while he was working in Bradford in 2005 and had given birth to their daughter three years later. When the partner was made redundant the couple decided to move to his village in the Czech Republic where they lived with his parents. But at some point their relationship broke down.
In 2016, with Tracy’s mother’s health deteriorating, they moved back to the UK with their daughter, who was then seven. Even though they were not together as a couple, they could both love and care for her.
But when they got back to Bradford, Tracy’s ex had a disagreement with her mother, and he was asked to leave.
Her former partner, who did not want to be named, says that he had never intended the 2016 move back to the UK to be permanent – he only agreed because Tracy’s mother was ill. When he realised that he was not welcome at the family home he started considering his options.
“I was thinking what to do,” he says. “I wasn’t even allowed to be in the house for my daughter’s birthday. I walked away and I felt miserable. I was crying like a small kid. That was the breaking point when I said ‘No’. Maybe it could have been different if they had proceeded more carefully, Tracy and her mother, if they were not so heavy-handed.
“Maybe I would have stayed and found myself a flat. Maybe I would have endured it. I will be honest with you, now I have a huge aversion towards England. I see English football and I switch to another channel.”
Find out more
The story of how Tracy’s former partner took their daughter out of the UK without her mother’s agreement features in The Untold: Child of Mine.
Under the Hague Convention, which governs cases of child custody waged across international borders, a child’s base is considered to be the country in which he or she has lived longest.
In Tracy’s daughter’s case, this was the Czech Republic, where she had lived for seven years.
This made it hard for Tracy to make a legal argument for her daughter to be returned to Bradford.
“Because of the way the relationship ended I didn’t feel able to go back there,” says Tracy. “It was destroying me to be apart from her and be told that this could happen legally – it was unbelievable. I don’t think the Hague Convention should be used to punish a mother.” She feels the fact that she was her daughter’s main carer should count for more.
It took an agonising 18 months for Tracy to get holiday visiting rights approved. And when her daughter finally arrived at Leeds Bradford airport on 6 July this year it was a huge relief.
“It was a dreadful time but being with her now makes me realise how little the bond has changed. We’ve spent almost a month together and it’s been beyond anything I imagined,” she says.
“It was amazing when we saw each other again. I picked her up and twirled her round,” says Tracy.
Tracy had moved into a new home in Bradford during the 18 months she spent apart from her daughter – but as soon as the little girl stepped foot in the house she said that it smelt familiar.
“Within hours of us being reunited, we were hugging and laughing as though we had never been apart. She’s taller, with more freckles, but otherwise unchanged. She hugs me so much and we tell each other how much we love each other all the time.”
But the time is fast approaching when Tracy’s daughter must leave again, and she won’t be back before Christmas.
“I know that my daughter is heartbroken at the thought of us being separated,” says Tracy. “I have held her as she has cried and screamed about what’s happened and the pain she must suffer when we part.”
The father says it has not been an easy situation for any of them.
“Look, it was a hard time – I didn’t abduct my daughter, I just took her back home,” he says.
But he also believes that his daughter wasn’t badly affected.
“She is coping the best of all,” he says. “I communicate with her teacher and she does not see any difference. Her health is strong.”
The long separation from her mother will have had some effect on the child, says Anne Marie Hutchinson, a UK-based expert on The Hague Convention.
“The longer a situation goes on where a child is estranged or isolated from its other parent, the more difficult it will be to re-establish the relationship between the parent and the child. So delay in this situation is going to damage the child,” she says.
She adds that removing a child without the other parent’s knowledge is “always reprehensible and damaging” whatever the rights and wrongs of the legal position.
Tracy also says her daughter suffered in the immediate aftermath of the separation.
“I now know that her little body shook with fear the night her father took her without my knowledge or consent,” says Tracy. “I know that he promised her she would see her beloved dog before he put her in a taxi to the airport. She was so sad when she realised that he’d lied and that I wasn’t coming back to the Czech Republic.
“She said the second evening we were reunited: ‘If my dad wants to be fair, why do I have to live in the Czech Republic?’ She really likes England. I suppose all I can do is keep instilling in her how much I love her and that she will always have a home here.”
The complex court proceedings that Tracy had to undergo were made much more arduous by language barriers and other differences between the two legal systems.
A spokeswoman for the courts in the Czech Republic explained some of the problems that arose.
“It is a case with a foreign element. So, the verdict is issued. Then the court has a 30-day period to issue it in writing. And since it concerns a mother who lives abroad and does not speak Czech it was necessary that an interpreter translates the verdict to English,” she said.
“The verdict was sent to an interpreter and the court began to try to deliver it in early January 2018. But delivering mail to England is a little problematic because the English postal service does not send back return receipts. We face a problem with English postal service because these return receipts do not come back.”
As the long wait continued, Tracy involved her local MP, Philip Davies. He contacted the Foreign Office, which assists in around 500 new child custody and international parental child abduction cases a year. Because jurisdiction in this case fell to the Czech Republic, officials provided Tracy with information on local lawyers but she could not afford to hire one.
Anne Marie Hutchinson says that in a case like Tracy’s, where the cost of legal representation is prohibitive, an already complicated system can appear particularly daunting.
“The problem is that there is no, as it were, Hague Court, that can make countries comply with not only the law but the procedure, and make them get on with cases quickly and ensure fairness is done.”
She says she is dealing with more and more cases involving a parent from Central or Eastern Europe and that Brexit is imposing an additional layer of uncertainty when relationships break down.
“I have had judges decide that a child is best left in an Eastern European country rather than being returned to the UK because they fear that under Brexit a parent there will not get visitation access. It is rare at the moment, but it is happening,” says Hutchinson.
Although she’s a qualified teacher, Tracy has been feeling too stressed to return to the classroom, and has been working as a cleaner instead.
But being together with her daughter this summer has made her ready to take on more responsibility. In September she will run poetry workshops and start supply teaching again.
“I feel more capable now her visiting looks more likely and I’m determined to finance the flights for her. Being with her has given me strength,” she says.
For now, Tracy is making the most of the time they have together.
“She is enjoying her time in England and has loved meeting my friends and seeing one special friend that she bonded with last time she was here. She describes this girl as her ‘best child friend’ and me as her ‘best grown-up friend’.
“We have gone shopping together, watched TV together, walked on stepping stones, bought shoes and a new duvet cover, just ordinary things so many parents might take for granted. Her favourite place was an ice-cream parlour in a barn. Those moments of being a child again are precious because she’s had to grow up far too fast.
“She still plays with dolls, yet she sometimes talks with an insight beyond her years,” says Tracy.
“She will not let go of my hand wherever we go. How will my little girl feel when she is forced to let go of it again?”
There is a petition on international child abduction that UK residents can sign. It appears to have been launched in early April 2018 and from what I can see has received very limited publicity to date. It remains live until 9 October 2018 and the text in support reads as follows:
Prevent child abduction and work to ensure abducted children are repatriated.
Approximately 500 cases of International Parental Child Abduction take place each year (that equates to ten a week) – these are figures from the FCO. Exit controls at the border were abolished in 1998, so court orders, alerts and other safeguards to prevent abduction cannot be effectively enforced.
The Government must raise awareness of the problem with public
authorities so that they can formulate more effective preventative
The Government must introduce a fully funded team dedicated to liaising with foreign Governments and fund legal action abroad to ensure that children are repatriated to the UK. The Government must implement the recommendations of the Law Commission to reform of sections 1 and 2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984.
10,000 signatures – of which there are only 45 to date – mine was the 45th – are needed for a formal response from the Government and 100,000 are needed for consideration to be given to a parliamentary debate.
The Prime Minister begins a new era of strengthening Britain’s ties and influence in Asia with an ambitious three-day trip to Japan.
The visit will build on the two nations’ strong history of friendship and cooperation as the UK seeks to cement its position as Japan’s strongest security partner in Europe, on Theresa May’s first visit to the country as Prime Minister.
With a trip involving three days spent in Kyoto and Tokyo, the Prime Minister will take part in a bilateral Summit and private dinner with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, with both also addressing the UK-Japan Business Forum. She will say that the UK and Japan are perfect partners for the future, as both nations seek to build on their strong economic, trade, security and defence ties.
The trip builds on intense engagement by the UK Government with Japan in recent months, including inward visits from the Chancellor, Foreign Secretary and International Trade Secretary, as well as the Prime Minister’s hosting of Prime Minister Abe at Chequers recently.
Security and defence will form a significant part of this week’s talks, with the latest provocative North Korean missile test high on the agenda as the UK and Japan seek to step up their cooperation in these important areas. The Prime Minister is expected to say to Prime Minister Abe that the UK is outraged by North Korea’s reckless provocation and strongly condemns the regime’s illegal tests.
A future trading relationship will also be a central tenet throughout the visit. It comes at a crucial time as the UK continues to prepare for new bilateral trading relationships after Brexit, and Prime Minister May is expected to reiterate the UK’s commitment to a swift conclusion of the ambitious EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement. She will also seek agreement from Prime Minister Abe that the UK and Japan should work to ensure it can form the basis of a bilateral arrangement quickly after Brexit.
The Prime Minister will be accompanied by the International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox and a delegation of 15 senior business leaders including representatives from Barclays, the Scotch Whisky Association and Aston Martin.
Japanese companies already invest more than £40 billion in the UK and over 1,000 Japanese companies, including Honda, Hitachi, Fujitsu and Sony, employ 140,000 people in the UK.
Flagship Japanese companies such as Nissan, Toyota and Softbank have already committed to a long-term post-Brexit presence in Britain.
Speaking ahead of the visit, the Prime Minister said:
Building on our existing ties with friends and allies around the world is vital as Britain prepares for a new era outside the European Union.
Japan has long been a natural trading partner for the UK as a like-minded nation with a shared belief in free trade and a rules-based international system, and my discussions with Prime Minister Abe will focus on how we can prepare the ground for an ambitious free trade agreement after Brexit, based on the EU-Japan agreement which I very much hope is nearing conclusion.
As our closest security partner in Asia, we will also discuss how we can work much more closely together on cyber security, counter-terrorism and defence – more important than ever in this uncertain world.
International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox said:
Japan is one of the UK’s largest non-EU trading partners, and as an international economic department we are engaging with businesses on both sides to maximise commercial opportunities and ensure continuity in trade as we leave the EU. Our aim for this visit will be to strengthen our already strong bilateral relationship and lay the groundwork for a future trade agreement.
The UK is Japan’s second most popular investment destination, and leading the business delegation is a key part of ensuring we are continuing to work closely with Japanese buyers to attract investment to the UK to create prosperity and jobs.
Hiroshima remembers victims of deadly landslides on third anniversary of the disaster
HIROSHIMA – A memorial service was held Sunday in Hiroshima to commemorate the third anniversary of the landslides that claimed the lives of 77 people.
“I don’t want anyone else to become a victim or a person feeling like us,” said 77-year-old Takako Miyamoto, one of the speakers at the event. She lost her husband after torrential rain triggered landslides in residential areas close to mountains in the city early on Aug. 20, 2014.
“It is really painful and sad. Our lives were ruined after losing everything dear to us, homes destroyed,” said Miyamoto, who was seriously injured in the landslide.
Touching on recent natural disasters including the torrential rain in Kyushu last month, she said she “sincerely hopes that no one else dies in a disaster.”
Three years ago, about 400 houses were either washed away or damaged by the landslides that struck Hiroshima.
“Residents are providing mutual support and the work to protect each other has progressed,” Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui said at the ceremony. “We’d like to support these efforts.”
Jointly hosted by the Hiroshima municipal and prefectural governments, the event was held in Asakita Ward, one of the hardest-hit areas.
Families and residents visited the devastated sites early Sunday to offer flowers and pray for those who died. Some touched the names of victims listed on a monument, while others tearfully clasped hands.
Hina Sawamoto, a 16-year-old high school student in the city of Hiroshima, lost her grandmother after a mudslide smashed into her house that day. She sometimes recalls the mudslide when it rains heavily and becomes worried that disaster may strike again.
The teenager said she wants to give a helping hand to those affected by the downpours in Kyushu, just as she was helped by volunteers after the disaster in Hiroshima.
She went to Oita Prefecture last month with her father, Yasuhiro, 46, and helped a family whose house had been swept away by a mudslide. “I was supported by many people. So I wanted to show my gratitude,” she said.
Although she was helping out, Sawamoto said she did not really get to talk with the victims. “Sometimes people want to be left alone. I know how they were feeling.” At the time of the disaster, residents in the devastated area had not been informed of the landslide risk, as many of the sites were not designated within the warning zone in accordance with the law on prevention of landslide disasters.
Afterward, the state revised the law and obliged prefectural governments to swiftly make public the results of basic investigations of terrain and geological conditions. The revised law took effect in January 2015.
According to the Hiroshima Prefectural Government, emergency work since the disaster to make 57 locations more resistant to landslides was completed in May this year.
The prefecture is expected to designate around 50,000 locations as landslide warning zones, but only about 40 percent of the areas had been so designated as of Aug. 10.