Child Abduction Conference, 9 February 2018

I attended the 1 King’s Bench Walk annual child abduction conference on Friday. I have attended every year since 2014 and the conference has been running since 2003 so this was the 15th year. It was again chaired by Richard Harrison, QC. I will single out just two of the talks.

 
There was an interesting opening talk by Mr Justice Francis. He was appointed to the High Court bench relatively recently and was the judge in the distressing Charlie Gard case which made news around the world in 2017. He spoke about that and about international cases involving children. He made the point that better liaison between judges of different countries would help to improve the quality of judicial decision making in countries were that was an issue as well as helping to better manage individual cases being litigated in two countries. He was also critical of countries which assigned low level family judges to abduction cases given the importance of the same: in the UK all abduction cases are dealt with in the High Court.

 
As in previous years, a talk was given by a representative of the charity Reunite. This was the only part of the day that Japan was mentioned, twice. In the course of the presentation, the speaker revealed that Reunite is currently working with the Japanese authorities to promote co-mediation. At the end of the presentation the chairman asked the speaker whether there were any “particularly challenging” Hague countries in terms of the recovery of children. The speaker replied, as I knew she would, by saying simply “Japan”. She it appeared did not seem to see the need to expand on this answer but when asked to do so by the chairman she went on to explain that “enforcement is not pushed” in Japan because it is “not engrained in its legal culture.” She also said that she did not see this changing any time soon.

 
This was just intended as a short write-up; anyone wanting to know more is welcome to get on contact.

Advertisements

Rui’s Father: My interview on Paul Brown’s *LBP Stories* — For Rui Boy

Japanese child abduction is a crime of opportunity provided by an American client, the Japanese state, a venture which is collaborated on with the support of the postwar masters of the Pacific, the United States.

via Rui’s Father: My interview on Paul Brown’s *LBP Stories* — For Rui Boy

Japan’s Supreme Court hands down a road map for parental child abductions


Japan’s Supreme Court hands down a road map for parental child abductions
by Colin P.A. Jones

Issues | LAW OF THE LAND

Dec 31, 2017

 

 

In 2014, after years of diplomatic pressure and countless horror stories about parents losing all contact with children taken to or retained in Japan, the nation finally joined the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This should have relegated to history Japan’s growing reputation as a “black hole” of abduction of children by one parent — usually the Japanese one —after the breakdown of a marriage or other relationship.
Less than four years later, in a sadly predictable ruling issued on Dec. 21, Japan’s Supreme Court confirmed abductions can continue. The difference seems to be that lower courts will pay lip service to the ideals of the convention by going through the motions, and various well-intentioned institutions now exist to help achieve the amicable resolutions that should ideally end such cases. But visitation with taken children will still be difficult or impossible, return orders will remain unenforceable and, at the end of it all, courts will be able to find it best for the children to stay in Japan.

 

The baroque procedural regime adopted by Japan to implement the convention was designed to give lower courts various ways to avoid returning children. Now that the top court has ratified such a result, we can probably expect to see more cases like this.
Children will be the principal victims of such abductions. However, I can’t help but feel sympathy for Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It bore the brunt of foreign criticism before Japan joined the treaty and, acting as Central Authority under it since , has devoted significant resources to resolving cases and helping the parents and children involved in such cases. This judgment will probably now make its job that much harder.

Escape hatches do their job

The case on which the court ruled has already been widely reported in the Western press. It involved the four children of an American father and Japanese mother.
According to the Supreme Court’s judgment they were brought to Japan by the mother in July 2014 with a promise they would be returned to their home in the United States the following month. They stayed. The following year the father applied to a Japanese court for a return order under the Hague Convention.
In 2016, the Osaka High Court issued an order that the children should be returned. The court found that the older children (11 at the time they were brought to Japan) were found to not want to return, but returning just the younger ones (who were both 6) would have been bad for all of them.
The basic concept underlying the convention is that children in these situations should be returned — promptly — by courts where they have been taken to their jurisdiction of habitual residence, and decisions about their long-term best interests should be made by courts there. The convention provides a few exceptions where returns can be refused, specifically: (i) if the child “objects to being returned and has attained an age and degree of maturity at which it is appropriate to take account of its views” and (ii) “there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.”
Having obtained a return order, the father then set about trying to enforce it. Here he encountered the unpleasant reality that Japanese family court orders involving children are generally unenforceable. No adults get arrested or even punished for noncooperation, meaning abducting parents (and the family members who often help them) can flaunt the law and the rulings of Japanese courts. This is relatively common knowledge within Japan, where even domestic divorces can see a child unilaterally taken by one parent and the other losing all contact for years. That a case like this would arise under the Hague Convention was always predictable; it was just a matter of when it would happen.
Whilst refusing to cooperate with the return order, the mother filed a motion to have the whole matter reconsidered based on changed circumstances. This was one of the escape hatches built into Japan’s implementing act — the ability of a losing party to seek a new trial (after an appeal!), even though the whole point of the process is to get kids back home as quickly as possible.
The Osaka High Court did rule expeditiously on this motion (impressive when one considers it can take years or even decades for a wrongly convicted criminal defendant to get a retrial based on new evidence) and — lo and behold — found it was no longer appropriate to return the child because the father lacked the wherewithal to support them. (That the father had been forced to pursue ruinously expensive cross-border litigation to remedy the abduction did not seem to matter.)
This was the other bolt-hole built into Japan’s implementing act: the ability of judges to consider the child-rearing capabilities of both parents in determining whether the exception in (ii) above might apply. In other words, the court did a custody evaluation about what would be in the best interests of the children, which is one of the basic things that is not supposed to happen in Hague Convention cases. The basic premise, again, is that custody determinations should be made by courts where the children have been habitually resident.
That this escape hatch would be used in a difficult case such as this was also predictable. Otherwise Japan’s courts would have suffered the ongoing bother and embarrassment of a demonstrably unenforceable return order hanging out in limbo in a high-profile case.

Top court decides on custody

It is this ruling that the five judges on the Supreme Court’s 1st Petty Bench upheld. Judgments of Japan’s Supreme Court are often terse, particularly when dealing with subjects like excessive detention, police misbehavior, constitutional violations and so forth. Part of the rationale may be that, except in rare cases, the top court only considers appeals as to matters of law and does not revisit lower court findings of fact, and the judgment just needs to contain conclusions about the applicable law.
When it comes to family cases, however, the court sometimes breaks from this staid mold and its judges presume to explain what is best for children they have never even met. In their December ruling the court declared in no uncertain terms that “the appellant (father) lacks the financial basis to appropriately care for the children, and cannot be expected to receive ongoing support in their care and support from his family.” It would thus be bad for the children to be returned to America.
That in the course of ruminating on the best interests of the children the judges did not find it worth mentioning that they had been denied all contact with their father during the entire process is simply indicative of how little importance the Supreme Court attaches to the parent-child relationship, at least when it is inconvenient to the result that best suits the court system.
At risk of sounding repetitive, who is best suited to care for the children is precisely the type of decision that the Hague Convention expects to be made in the home country. Moreover, Article 20 of the treaty clearly states that “a decision under this Convention concerning the return of the child shall not be taken to be a determination on the merits of any custody issue.” Perhaps the court just found this language inconvenient when for all intents and purposes it conclusively determined the merits of the custody issues in this particular case — where the children would grow up and who would raise them.
There you have it. Courts in other countries should now be on notice that, despite Japan joining the Convention and a diligent Central Authority providing assistance to parents of taken children, return orders issued by the nation’s courts remain unenforceable, contact can be safely denied, Japanese judges looking for ways to let children stay in Japan can simply find fault with the left-behind parent’s imagined parenting capabilities and higher courts will ratify that decision as being “in the best interests of the children.”
By demonstrating such a low threshold for refusing returns and condoning noncooperation with enforcement proceedings, the Supreme Court’s ruling seems likely to serve as a road map for further abductions to come.
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 hands down a road map for parental child abductions”, The Japan Times, 31 December 2017

Special Advisor for Children’s Issues to Travel to Japan and the Republic of Korea

Special Advisor for Children’s Issues to Travel to Japan and the Republic of Korea

Media Note

Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
December 1, 2017

The Special Advisor for Children’s Issues, Suzanne Lawrence, will travel to Tokyo and Seoul from December 4-14.

Special Advisor Lawrence will lead the U.S. delegation in a conference focused on the Hague Abduction Convention in Tokyo, which will provide an opportunity to engage with representatives from countries throughout the Asia Pacific region on the critical issue of international parental child abduction. The Special Advisor will also meet with government officials in both Tokyo and Seoul to discuss intercountry adoption and international parental child abduction issues.

The United States is dedicated to supporting intercountry adoption as a viable option for children in need of permanency, and to preventing and resolving international parental child abduction cases.

For more information about the Department of State’s Office of Children’s Issues, visit: www.adoption.state.gov and www.travel.state.gov/childabduction

Source:  “Special Advisor on Children’s Issues to travel to Japan and the Republic of Korea”, US Department of State press release, 1 December 2017


Our Leadership

Suzanne Lawrence
Special Advisor for Children’s Issues
U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs

Ambassador Suzanne Lawrence

Suzanne Lawrence is the Special Advisor for Children’s Issues. Prior to arriving in Washington, she served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy in Athens, Greece. Ms. Lawrence has also served as a Senior Advisor for the Assistant Secretary in the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Ms. Lawrence is a career member of the U.S. Senior Foreign Service, class of Minister-Counselor. Previously, she has served as the Director of the Senior Level Division in the Office of Career Development and Assignments in the Bureau of Human Resources, and as Director of the Office of Policy Coordination and Public Affairs for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Overseas, Ms. Lawrence was the U.S. Country Consular Coordinator for Australia and Deputy Principal Officer and Consular Section Chief at the U.S. Consulate General in Sydney, Australia. Ms. Lawrence also has served overseas in Jerusalem, Dublin and Caracas.

Domestically, Ms. Lawrence has worked as a desk officer in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, as the East Asia and Pacific Division Chief in the Office of Overseas Citizens Services/American Citizens Services and Crisis Management, and as the spokesperson for the Bureau of Consular Affairs.

Suzanne holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. Her graduate studies include a Master’s degree in international management from the American Graduate School of International Management (“Thunderbird”) and a Master’s degree in strategic studies from the National War College at the National Defense University.

Suzanne is married and has a daughter.

Source:  US Department of State (accessed on 11 December 2017)

Enforcement measures eyed to settle child custody battles

The Mainichi

Enforcement measures eyed to settle child custody battles

TOKYO (Kyodo) — An advisory panel to the Japanese Justice Ministry proposed Friday that measures be enforced on divorced parents who take custody of their children against a court order to pay fines.

If the parents continue to refuse to let the children go, court officials will be entitled to take away the children, the panel said in an interim report on the reform of the nation’s child custody system.

The proposal has been made at a time when critics are criticizing the inconsistency between the state’s handling of such disputes between domestic and international marriages as the latter were already subject to rules of the so-called Hague treaty.

Japan in 2014 acceded to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which sets out rules and procedures for the prompt return to the country of habitual residence of children under 16 taken or retained by one parent, if requested by the other parent.

The Justice Ministry plans to solicit public comments on the report later this month. After reporting the outcome to the panel, the ministry is expected to submit a bill to revise the civil execution law to the Diet in 2018 at the earliest.

There is currently no stipulation in Japan’s legal system regarding parents who do not abide by a court order to give away children to their former marital partners. Such disputes have been handled based on regulations regarding the seizure of assets.

According to the proposal in the interim report, divorced parents who refuse to give away their children in defiance of a court order will be fined until their surrender to encourage them to voluntarily abide by the court decision.

If the parents continue to ignore the court order for two weeks, court officials will be allowed to take away the children and put them in the hands of the other parents.

If divorced parents fail to pay expenses to raise children, the report also proposes enabling courts to make inquiries to financial institutions on information about such parents’ financial assets.

Source:  “Enforcement measures eyed to settle child custody battles”, The Mainichi, 9 September 2017