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.

Lawmaker: U.S. needs to pressure Japan to comply with international child abduction laws (USA Today)

Lawmaker: U.S. needs to pressure Japan to comply with international child abduction laws

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Japan remains a haven for parental child abductions and a U.S. lawmaker Wednesday urged the Trump administration to do more to pressure the country to fulfill its obligations under international law.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., said during congressional testimony that between 300 and 400 children of international marriages have been abducted from the U.S. to Japan since 1994, and that more than 35 are still awaiting reunification with their American parents.

“Every day these children are separated from their U.S. parent, the damage compounds,” Smith said before a Congressional subcommittee on global human rights. “We must do better. We must not leave any child behind.”

Under international pressure, in 2014 Japan signed The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction. The treaty requires the government to set up a process to allow foreign parents to appeal for visitation or return of their children. But Japan has been slack in administering the convention, according to Smith.

 “How many of these children have come home four years later?” asked Smith. “How many even have access to their left behind parent now?  Almost zero.”

James Cook, a Minnesota medical device specialist trying to gain custody of his four minor children from his estranged Japanese wife, also testified before Congress.

In July 2014, his Japanese wife Hitomi Arimitsu took their children to Japan to visit her family and refused to return. Cook submitted an application for return under the Hague treaty and the case has made its way through both the Japanese and American court system, but Cook has still not been able to see his children.

A Minnesota court ordered the return of Cook’s children in 2017, but the ruling wasn’t carried out in Japan.

A key issue is that Japan does not have a way of enforcing its Hague commitments. It requires the abducting parent to voluntarily turn the children over and doesn’t allow the use of force in extracting the children. There have been numerous cases of parents simply refusing to comply with the Hague rulings.

Cook’s wife petitioned a Japanese court against the ruling to return the children and it was overturned, a decision which Japan’s Supreme Court upheld in December 2017.

“[My wife] has achieved the perfect consequence-free abduction with the aid of Japan’s systemic non-compliance and [the US Department of State’s] inaction,” Cook said in his testimony.

“After over 2.5 years in this process, I have nothing,” he said. “This process has cost me everything.”

Attention to the issue within Japan has been growing in recent weeks. Last month, all EU Ambassadors to Japan signed an official letter of diplomatic protest to pressure Japan to follow international law and enforce decisions which give an international parent custody or visitation rights.

Also in March, Japan’s Supreme Court ruled that a Japanese mother who is refusing to return her child to their father in the United States is “illegally restraining” the child under the Hague Convention.

It was the first such ruling by a Japanese court.

The court ruling and international pressure are a cause for optimism, according to John Gomez, an American who is chairman of the Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion group in Japan.

Gomez said that barriers remain, including an underlying “continuity principle” in Japanese courts means that the abducted child stays with the abducting parent.

“Until the ‘continuity principle’ by which judges in Japan issue rulings is actually discarded and kidnapped children are returned, we must keep pushing to the utmost for the children to be returned to their loving parents,” said Gomez.

Rep. Smith said in his testimony that the State Department needs to apply more pressure on Japan and other countries that have refused to cooperate in returning abducted children. A 2014 law that Smith sponsored, the Goldman Act, requires the State Department to develop an agreement with Japan about children that had been abducted and to hold Japan accountable.

However, Smith said that no action has been taken against Japan for past or current cases, and the State Department hasn’t even listed Japan as “non-compliant” in its annual report on the Hague convention.

Source:  “Lawmaker:  US needs to pressure Japan to comply with international child abduction laws”, USA Today, 11 April 2018