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 in contact.

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The Scotsman: “Number of Scots children abducted by overseas parents soars”

Number of Scots children abducted by overseas parents soars Campaigners have called for a change in Scots law to protect children

Scott Macnab

Published: 06:00 Friday 03 November 2017

Campaigners have stepped up calls for a change in Scots law to tackle international abductions of children by a parents overseas after new figures revealed a soaring number of cases in the past decade. Dozens of new “international abduction” cases happen every year in Scotland having previously stood in single figures in 2007. The practice has been branded “child abuse” by campaigners who say there is a “stark difference” between Scotland and England over the issue. It is a criminal offence south of the Border. In Scotland, police cannot act until a court order has been obtained – which can take anywhere between a day and a week. The figures revealed by justice secretary Michael Matheson in a Parliamentary answer yesterday shows that there were 33 cases parental child abduction for Scotland in 2016. Although this is down from the 41 cases recorded in 2015, it is nonetheless a marked increase from the eight cases recorded in 2007. Most involved cases of children being taken out of Scotland, which reached a new high of 20 last year – up from two in 2007.  India, Australia, the USA, Italy and Poland are among the countries where children have been taken, according to support charity Reunite International. Solicitor Yousif Ahmed is now calling for a change in law which would mean parents not needing to go through the lengthy process of securing a court order before police can act.  “That’s not fit for purpose – all it takes is a few clicks of a mouse button to book a same-day flight and the child can potentially be gone and lost forever,” he said. Many parents won’t be aware that an abduction is looming which means they won’t be in a position to secure an interdict.  Mr Ahmed is to meet Scottish Government officials to push for change.  Vicky Mayes of Reunite International said it’s a particular problem for Scots parents who fear an abduction may be imminent.  “It’s so stark, the difference, when you’re advising one parent in England and one parent in Scotland. There can be such a difference in what the police can do and what can be done to stop a child from being abducted and therein minimise the impact of all of this on that child.”

Read more at: http://www.scotsman.com/news/number-of-scots-children-abducted-by-overseas-parents-soars-1-4603650

 

Post on the 2017 Child Abduction Conference (10 February)

As previously posted here, I attended the 1 King’s Bench Walk International Child Abduction Conference in London on 10 February as I did in 2015 and 2016.  As in previous years, it was an all-day conference and I shall not attempt to summarise everything.

For me, the most notable points were these:

  • Following “Brexit” it is not clear what will become of the “Brussels II” Regulation which regulates family law issues between EU states, including questions of international parental child abduction (see also Blogroll to the right for a link to the entire text). It may well be replicated in domestic law but, as I said, it is not yet clear whether and how this will occur.
  • Mr Justice MacDonald, a High Court judge, gave an address in regard to case management issues in the context of abduction cases.
  • The annual update given by the charity Reunite International revealed that their statistics show that there have been 10% increases in parental abductions in “most years”; whilst worrying, that is not altogether surprising given the increased prevalence of international marriages. They have also set up successful bi-monthly meetings for left behind parents in the UK and now publish their prevention guides, available on the website, in languages other than English.  The speaker also drew attention to a shocking incident whereby the Metropolitan Police refused to take action in regard to a removal of a child where that removal was reported before it happened.  That is now the subject of a civil claim but shows that ignorance as regards the issue of parental child abduction extends to arms of the state whose role should be to help prevent abductions taking place at all, where there is advance knowledge that an abduction may take place.  Reunite is also undertaking a great many more mediations now than before, an encouraging sign as the organisation has a good track record in that regard.
  • There was also a separate talk dedicated to mediation and arbitration. On this the notable development over the last year has been the introduction of the Child Arbitration Scheme in July 2016.

This post is dedicated to my son who turns 8 ¼ today.

Annual child abduction conference in London – 2016

Towards the end of last month I attended the 1 King’s Bench Walk Annual Conference on Child Abduction in London, as I did last year. It lasted most of the day so I am not going to attempt to cover everything.

The conference covered the following areas:

  • Habitual residence;
  • The 1996 Hague Convention;
  • Consent, acquiescence and settlement;
  • Article 13b, undertakings and protective measures;
  • The voice of the child;
  • Talk on behalf of Reunite by Anne-Marie Hutchinson OBE;
  • Abduction and same-sex parents;
  • Finding children and getting them on the plane;
  • Tipstaff;
  • Mediation.

The talk given on behalf of the charity Reunite was by Anne-Marie Hutchinson OBE, the UK’s leading child abduction solicitor. Encouragingly she said that, in relation to cases that Reunite had been involved in, they had seen increases in returns to non-Hague countries such as India, Pakistan and Thailand. Far less encouragingly, she reported that the UK’s Legal Aid Agency had denied legal aid to those wishing to effect a return of a child or children from non-Hague jurisdictions due to a lack of merit: the Agency is of the view that such cases are lacking in merit, and therefore not worthy of public funding, because even if a removal or retention can be said to be wrongful, if the country concerned is not going to enforce a return then there is no point in litigating. As Ms Hutchinson was quick to point out, that cannot be right because a parent wronged in this way must be entitled to legal recognition of that fact; the parent may return alone and the absence of a previously-made return order might mean that there is insufficient time to act on that parent’s return to press for a return of the child; and a further reason why the approach raises concern is because Commonwealth countries are more likely to recognize UK court orders. The Legal Aid Agency was also said to be of the view that the correct approach in such cases is to issue proceedings in the country concerned: Japan did not get a mention at this year’s conference but anyone knowing anything about Japan’s family law “system” will recognize that this is bordering on the pointless. Another concern that was aired at the conference and again in relation to the provision of legal aid was that legal aid is not available in “leave to remove” cases: i.e. situations where a parent applies for a court’s permission to take a child abroad – invariably to a non-Hague state – and the other parent objects meaning that a judge must decide. The absence of legal aid means that the potential left behind parent will either have to represent him or herself or pay for representation to counter the proposals being made by the other parent. Ms Hutchinson also reported that Reunite has been “busier than ever” in terms of the role that it plays in mediation, including in relation to disputes not even concerning UK children.

During the lunch break, I spoke to the QC who gave the talk on mediation. In his talk, he drew attention to an article written by the former Designated Family Judge for London, John Altman.   Judge Altman was present at the conference. The article concerns the innovation of “early neutral evaluation” as a means of resolving disputes involving children; it is distinct from arbitration although the QC noted that arbitration is now becoming available in children cases as well; he therefore pre-empted the piece on arbitration that featured as the immediately previous post on this blog.

By far the most interesting part of the day was the talk given by the High Court’s “Tipstaff”, Richard Cheesley, the “Bruce Willis” of the family law system. The Tipstaff is the High Court’s enforcement officer. Most of the Tipstaff’s work arises out of Family Division cases. His role includes executing warrants for arrest and committal to prison in relation to defaulting parents and executing location orders, collection orders and passport seizure orders in relation to children. The role of Tipstaff goes back, as the title suggests, a long way. He is the only person who can effect at arrest within the precincts of the High Court, is the Lord Chancellor’s constable and has the power to commandeer the front car of any train in England and Wales; he said that he has been in his position since the early 1990s and has not had to utilise that power. On a more serious note he spoke of the fact that the UK’s border alert system to prevent abductions taking place is nowhere near as stringent as the checks made on people coming in; that is clearly something that cannot stand.

This is an annual conference and the profits from it go to  the Reunite International charity. Please see here for a conference that is to focus more on the impact – parental and child – of international parental child abduction; it is to take place in New York later this month.  I was hoping to be able to attend it but that is not going to happen unfortunately.

Walk Across Borders: Spain to UK charity walk by Steven Monk-Dalton

Between 23 August 2015 and 5 October 2015, Steven Monk-Dalton, whose daughter is a victim of international parental child abduction, will walk from Orihuela in Spain to the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand in London in support of the charity Reunite.  I hope to be able to join the last leg of this journey from Brentford to central London on 5 October.  Please support this walk by sharing the links to his Facebook and Just Giving pages as widely as possible, joining the walk (for readers based in Spain, France and/or the UK) and by sponsoring him also.