Two years on from consular visit

It has been 2 years since I had any significant information about my son:  the occasion of the visit by British consular officials on him on Saturday 16 March 2013.  It is now 16 March 2015.  The report can be read here – and a slightly earlier post concerning the scope of the visit can be read here.

In the weeks and months immediately following receipt of the report, I read it over and over again.  I pored over every word, and attempted to read between the lines, to mine as much information as I could about my son’s life in Japan.  A couple of discoveries, though neither were in truth particularly surprising, were that he attended a nursery and that he did not seem to understand much English, although he was said to be learning a little.  It was also implied that he lived at his grandparents’ home with his mother, although again that did not come as a surprise.  It was reassuring to learn in an email from an official that gifts mailed to him there would be passed on to him.

After about 6 months or so I stopped reading the report as it became hard to do so and because I almost knew it by heart.  The report mentioned a couple of my son’s friends and, whilst I was pleased that he was well settled, it made me bitter that they (just friends) saw more of my son than I did.  It was by then also clear to me that, whilst Hugo’s mother had consented to the visit taking place, it was not going to be the first step towards a greater level of information about my son’s life in Japan, whether through the conduit of the Embassy or otherwise.

The Child Abduction Unit at the Foreign Office made clear that the visit was unlikely to be repeated and I have received no significant ongoing assistance from them or the Embassy in Japan at all since the visit. I hope that it might be possible for an exception to be made, and a further visit conducted, a couple of years down the line from now as by then, unlike the situation that existed in March 2013, my son would understand what the visit was about and would be able to ask questions of his visitors. On reflection, perhaps it was this that was the reason why my son’s mother agreed to the visit occurring when it did, i.e. when my son was so little, safe in the knowledge that the visit was unlikely to be repeated when he was older, able to understand what such a visit was about and capable of asking questions of independent visitors about his past life.

The report did tell me a little about my son’s interests – he likes dogs and “mechanical things”. I have done my best in the last two years to use that limited information to help inform what gifts I send to him and what I write on this website; the previous post but one, for example, would at first seem to have little to do with child abduction – it was posted because my son likes mechanical things so I hope that the post would interest him one day.  I recall that he was always fascinated by aircraft, trains, buses and so on of which there was never any shortage to see in London.

Re-reading the report 2 years on, I am left wondering why, during an hour spent in my son’s presence, more information was not obtained and why, for example, the officials did not ask for copies of school (nursery) reports, nor for details of that nursery nor for details of where/how he is said to be learning a little English.  It seems from the report that the question was not asked, not that the information was refused.  Why not give the name of the TV programme that he enjoyed so I could view it too?  In hindsight, I wish that I had sent a list of questions in advance of the visit.  In addition, my son’s mother was not directly asked to explain her conduct in taking such a young boy, unable to understand what was happening to him or to make decisions for himself, despite the fact that Hugo is a British citizen and the Embassy exists to safeguard the interests of all British citizens; it must be the case that such duties are heightened, not diminished, when it comes to children.  Although I welcomed the information that I did glean from the visit, I cannot help but think that more could have been achieved from it.

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Hugo

I omitted to post again regarding the consular visit on Hugo back in March.  After it took place, I emailed my point of contact at the Foreign Office.  My email and the reply are reproduced below.  As I feared, there is nothing more that they can do.  Given this, given the fact that the Hague Convention will not have retrospective effect and given that reform of Japan’s custody laws is not anywhere on the horizon, the outlook for left behind parents in pre- Hague Convention cases looks as bleak as ever.

————————————————————————————————-

Dear [name removed]

Thank you for your email. I have passed on your thanks to my colleagues in Japan.

I am not sure there is anything else we can do at the moment as the apparent obstacle in your case is one of access to Hugo.  The advice given by Catriona Gorry in her email to you of 23 January still stands and I have repeated that immediately below:

“If you have not already done so you may also find it helpful to speak to Reunite, a UK-based organisation who specialise in international child abduction and custody issues. They have a mediation service that you may wish to ask them about. Reunite can be contacted on 0116 2556 234 and have a website: http://www.reunite.org

 

I also attach, for info, a link to a list of lawyers in Japan. You may be able to approach the Family Court in Japan for assistance in retaining contact with Hugo in the longer term:http://ukinjapan.fco.gov.uk/en/help-for-british-nationals/when-things-go-wrong/if-you-need-lawyer/

I also attach a copy of our leaflet which explains what we can and cannot do to assist in similar cases.  If you think there is something we can properly do to assist further that we have not yet done, please do let me know.

Regards

[name removed]

 | Caseworker Child Abduction Section: Middle East & North Africa | Consular Assistance | E4.4| Foreign & Commonwealth Office| London SW1A 2AH | |Tel: + 44 (0)20 7008 0200 | FTN: 8008 0200 |www.gov.uk/fco

If an email reply is overdue please telephone the above number.

From:
Sent: 28 March 2013 16:01
To: * (Restricted)
Subject: RE: Consular Visit Report on Hugo

Dear [name removed]

Thank you for the report about Hugo, photograph and the confirmation of the bank details.  Please thank the officers who conducted the visit on him.  I am very grateful that the visit was undertaken as it brought with it the first real news about Hugo in well over a year.

Given that Hugo is not yet even 4 1/2, is there anything else that the FCO can do, now or potentially in the future, to assist with this situation?

Regards

 [name removed]

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Consular report on Hugo

The consular visit, about which I have posted previously, took place on Saturday 16th March 2013 at a park in Hiroshima. Hugo’s mother would not agree to any photograph of Hugo being taken.  The report can be read here: Hugo report March 2013.  Below is a photograph of the location of the visit as taken by Hugo’s visitors – one western and one Japanese – after Hugo had departed.

Consular Visit Location - Hugo Young

Hague Convention WILL now be ratified

Today was the day that the consular visit to Hugo ought to have taken place; this being a weekend, I do not anticipate any news as to how that went until next week.

As reported by the Japan Times on Friday, it now seems to be confirmed that Japan will incorporate into Japanese law the provisions of the Hague Convention.  I reproduce the article in full below:

The Japan Times

Cabinet OKs bills for Hague treaty

Kyodo

Mar 16, 2013

The Cabinet approved bills Friday for Japan to join an international treaty on settling cross-border child-custody disputes, paving the way for Diet passage in May.

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction sets rules for the prompt return of children under 16 who are taken or retained by one parent following the failure of an international marriage, to the nation of their habitual residence.

The Cabinet planned to submit the bills, including the convention, to the Diet the same day. The bills are certain to be passed because they were endorsed by the ruling camp and the Democratic Party of Japan, which was in power when the bills were first submitted to the Diet last year.

The legislation related to the pact states the process for returning children to their habitual residence. Exemptions will be made for cases where child abuse or domestic violence is involved.

The United States, Japan’s main ally, has been urging Tokyo to join the treaty as soon as possible, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe hopes doing so will bolster the bilateral alliance.

Abe’s government apparently sees participating in the convention and the negotiations on the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks as two important ways it can strengthen ties.

The former DPJ-led government submitted the bills to the Diet last March, but deliberations hit a snag and the bills were scrapped in November following the dissolution of the House of Representatives.

Consular visit in Hiroshima – Saturday 16th March 2013, 10 am

Since the last post on 24 February 2013, there have been a series of developments; indeed, I have received, albeit indirectly, the first news about Hugo since he left the UK in 2011.

I first made contact with the Child Abduction Section at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London in January 2012, shortly after Hugo was taken away.  They made it clear from the outset that there was not an awful lot that they could do, all the more as the country concerned was Japan.  One option that I did have was to ask them to arrange for a consular visit on Hugo to take place.  It was made clear that, in general, only one such visit could take place.  Given this and given Hugo’s young age, I decided not to request such a visit right away but rather wait for a period of time.

Almost exactly a year later, there having been no sort of contact, direct or indirect, from my son or anyone in his Japanese family, I decided to ask the Child Abduction Section to try and organise a visit.  I gave them the landline number for Hugo’s mother’s parents’ home.

At 4.16 pm on 28 February 2013, the very day that Hugo turned 4 1/4, I received an email from a caseworker at the Child Abduction Section stating that Hugo’s mother had agreed to the visit taking place.  On that day, I had been representing a client at a Tribunal centre very near to Heathrow Airport and had to take the underground back into town afterwards from one of the airport terminals. Ironically, I had gone into the terminal to buy something and it was at that time, perhaps only about 100 metres from where I last saw Hugo, that I received the news that a consular visit would take place, the first such news about Hugo for about 14 months.

I emailed the caseworker back with some questions about whether photographs would be taken, what information would be elicited about Hugo and whether the mother’s actions would be challenged.  The reply was that photographs could be taken with the mother’s consent, her actions could not be challenged as this is not a matter for civil servants (even though Hugo is half-British and even though the UK has obligations in international law as regards the best interests of children) and, in terms of the information-gathering exercise, the following information was provided in the reply:

Remit of the Visit

Consular officers are not able to assess a child’s language skills.  Nor are they able to conduct a ‘welfare assessment’ of a child.  We are not trained social workers/welfare workers.  The main objective of the consular visit is to check on the child’s general well-being.  What consular officers will look at in general terms is:

 

·         The appearance of Hugo (does he look healthy; clean; appropriately dressed for the climate; does he talk unprompted; is he registered with a local doctor & dentist)

·         Hugo’s home environment – if the visit is at the family home (is it comfortable, clean; evidence of toys/books)

·         Some social/general areas ( favourite TV programmes; friends; who looks after him during the day)

 

I’m not sure if the consular officers who will conduct the visit have undertaken Consular Visits before.  However, they will be acting under firm guidance on how to conduct the visit and will have received a written briefing from me on the physical handling of it.  Please bear in mind that the visit is to check on Hugo’s general well-being.  We cannot conduct professional assessments so officers will apply our guidance and common sense.

A further email, received this week, indicated that Hugo’s mother would not agree to the taking of photographs.  I emailed the caseworker back and asked whether this request could be made again at the actual meeting and he said that it could be.  Her refusal to consent to the taking of photographs brought home the absurdity of the situation:  that she and her family can see Hugo all of the time, that two consular officers can see him but that my family and I cannot even see a photograph of him.  In my email back to the caseworker following the news that a visit would take place, I had pointed out that some people in my family are old – my father will be 85 this year and two members of my family have died since Hugo left the UK (one just a week ago) – and could not travel to Japan even if there was the opportunity for them to see Hugo (which there is not).  None of this, if communicated on to Hugo’s mother, made any difference.  In my latest email, I have had to ask whether she might agree to just one photograph being taken.  Failing that, I have asked that the consular staff instead take a photograph of the area where the visit takes place so at least I might be able to see that.

Subject to Hugo being well – he is said to have only just recovered from the flu (again, this is the first news that I have had relating to him specifically) – the visit will take place at a shopping mall in Hiroshima at 10.30 am on Saturday 16th March. Although I have been able to use this indirect contact to try and resolve some practical issues through the Foreign Office and Embassy in Japan – I have received an assurance, for example, that anything I post to Hugo’s grandparents’ address in Hiroshima does get passed on to him – I doubt whether this exercise will produce anything other than a report detailing those matters referred to above.  As indicated above, in general, only one such visit can take place.  I have not yet asked what, if anything, the Child Abduction Section can do to assist after the visit is concluded, and in what circumstances a further visit could, exceptionally, take place, but will do so and will update this blog about that in due course.  Given Hugo’s mother’s position on the photographs, I do not now expect much to be achieved by this visit other than a reassurance that Hugo is safe, well and hopefully happy.