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.

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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 

Supreme Court custody decision – Japan

Supreme Court breaks new ground, ruling in favor of U.S.-based Japanese father in international custody battle

BY TOMOHIRO OSAKI

STAFF WRITER

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday in favor of a U.S.-based Japanese father seeking to reunite with his teenage son, who was taken by his estranged wife to Japan in 2016, concluding that the wife’s dogged refusal to abide by an earlier court order mandating the minor’s repatriation amounts to her “illegally confining” him.

The ruling is believed to be the first by the Supreme Court on cases where return orders by courts have been refused. It is likely to send a strong message regarding domestic legislation that is often slammed as impotent on cross-border child abductions, despite Japan’s commitments under the Hague Convention, following mounting criticism that return orders issued by courts have been ignored.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Nagoya High Court.

This latest case involved a formerly U.S.-based Japanese couple whose marital relationship began to deteriorate in 2008. According to the ruling, the wife unilaterally took away one of her children, then aged 11, in January 2016 and brought him to Japan where the two have since lived together.

Upon a complaint by the husband, a Tokyo court issued in September the same year a “return order” for the child under the Hague Convention, but the wife didn’t comply. When a court-appointed officer intervened to recover the child the following year the wife “refused to unlock the door,” prompting the officer to enter her residence via a second-story window, the ruling said. The mother then put up a fierce fight to retain the child, who also articulated his wish to stay in Japan.

On Thursday the top court overturned a Nagoya High Court ruling that acknowledged the child’s desire to stay in Japan. The latest ruling judged the minor was “in a difficult position to make a multifaceted, objective judgment about whether to remain under control of his mother,” citing his “heavy reliance” on her and the “undue psychological influence” she was likely exerting upon him in his life in Japan. The apparent lack of his free will, the ruling said, meant the mother’s attempt to keep the child equated to detention.

“It’s very common for taking parents to alienate the child against their left-behind parents,” said John Gomez, chairman of nongovernmental organization Kizuna Child-Parent Reunion, noting the lower court ruling ignored “the undue psychological influence, the alienation, by the taking parent against the other parent.”

“Previously, when the children give their opinion, ‘Oh I don’t want to return,’ the enforcement process would stop … But this ruling recognizes we shouldn’t only listen to the words themselves, but we should consider the context that they’ve been influenced,” Gomez continued. “It’s a very critical development.”

Japan belatedly signed the Hague Convention in January 2014, signaling a step toward overcoming its longtime notoriety as a “safe haven” for parents who abduct their children from other countries. But questions have long remained over the effectiveness of its domestic legislation tied to the treaty.

Since the pact entered into force in April the same year, there have been six cases where return orders resulted in bailiffs being dispatched to achieve the handover of children, but none were ultimately successful, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Under the law, a fine is first imposed on parents who refuse to comply with a court order to repatriate their children.

Should the parents still refuse to relinquish their control of the children, court-appointed enforcement officers will be dispatched to confront them. The bailiffs, who are tasked with convincing the parents with custody to hand over the children, are authorized to enter and search their premises as well as physically restrain them. But the law also stipulates that the officers are prohibited from exerting any physical force on the children themselves, compromising their ability to ensure the children’s return.

“So if it’s a case where a child is willing to leave but a parent is refusing to let go of the child, an enforcement officer can resort to physical force to restrain the parent. But if it’s the child who is protesting by clinging on to the parent, for example, the officer cannot do the same,” a Foreign Ministry official said.

In its 2017 Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction, the U.S. government expressed concern over Japan’s “ability to quickly and consistently enforce return orders.”

While courts in Japan have ordered returns under the Convention, the Japanese authorities “were not regularly able to enforce these orders,” the report said, citing one particular case that remained pending for more than 12 months in which law enforcement failed to enforce the return order.

Source:  “Supreme Court breaks new ground, ruling in favor of US-based Japanese father in international custody battle”, The Japan Times, 15 March 2018 

C (Children)

The Supreme Court has given a decision in the case of C (Children).  It is a decision concerned with habitual residence and wrongful retention under the Hague Convention.  There is an article about the decision in the Law Society Gazette and the full judgment can be read here.  I reproduce below the press summary issued by the Court:

PRESS SUMMARY
In the matter of C (Children) [2018] UKSC 8
On appeal from [2017] EWCA Civ 980
JUSTICES: Lady Hale (President), Lord Kerr, Lord Wilson, Lord Carnwath, Lord Hughes
BACKGROUND TO THE APPEAL
This matter centres around a married man and woman who, until 2015, had been living together in Australia with their two children. By the end of 2014 the marriage was in difficulties. The mother, who holds British citizenship, wanted to make a trip to England with the children before returning to work from maternity leave. The father agreed to an eight-week stay. The mother and the children came to England on 4 May 2015 where they have since remained. Discussions between the mother and father resulted in the father agreeing to an extension of the eightweek visit up to a year. Based on the extension, the mother gave notice to her employer and looked for work in England.  In September 2015, the mother enrolled the older child at a local pre-school. Without telling the father, on 2
November 2015, she applied for British citizenship for both children who had entered England on six-month visitor visas. Her solicitors wrote a letter to the immigration authorities on her behalf indicating that she and the children could not return to Australia for fear of domestic abuse.
In continuing correspondence, the father pressed the mother on the children’s expected date of return. The mother indicated that she did not know what her plans were but made clear that she would not be returning in May 2016. In June 2016, she expressed her intention to remain in the UK.
The father made an application in the High Court under the Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction (the “Abduction Convention”). The issue of when the mother had decided not to return to Australia was in contention. The mother’s own case was that by April 2016 she had felt she and the children would not be returning. The arguments before the Court meant that, on any view, there was a decision not to return to Australia before the expiry of the agreed year. The judge held that the children were habitually resident in England and Wales by the end of June 2016 so that mandatory summary return was unavailable under the Abduction Convention. But he accepted mother’s evidence that she did not have the intention, in November
2015, or before April 2016, not to return to Australia.
The mother now appeals against the Court of Appeal’s decision. The issues in the appeal are: (1) what is the effect on an application under the Abduction Convention if a child has become habitually resident in the destination state before the act relied on as a wrongful removal or retention occurs; and (2) if a child has been removed from
their home state by agreement with the left-behind parent for a limited period can there be a wrongful retention before the agreed period of absence expires (so-called “repudiatory retention”)? The father cross-appeals on the issue of habitual residence.
JUDGMENT
The Supreme Court allows the appeal and dismisses the cross appeal. Lord Hughes gives the lead judgment with whom Lady Hale and Lord Carnwath agree. Lord Kerr and Lord Wilson each give judgments concurring on the two points of principle but dissenting on the outcome of this case on its facts.
REASONS FOR THE JUDGMENT
Issue 1
When considering the general scheme of the Abduction Convention, the construction that summary return is available if, by the time of the act relied on as a wrongful removal or retention, a child is habitually resident in the state where the application for return is made is unpersuasive. That construction is inconsistent with the operation
of the Abduction Convention since 1980 and its treatment by subsequent international legal instruments. [19]
The Abduction Convention is designed to provide a summary remedy which negates the pre-emptive force of wrongful removal or retention and to defeat forum-shopping. [21] The point of the scheme adopted by the Abduction Convention was to leave the merits to be decided by the courts of the place of the child’s habitual residence. If the forum state is the habitual residence of the child, there can be no place for a summary return to
somewhere else, without a merits-based decision. This understanding of the scheme of the Abduction Convention is reflected in the provisions of both the Revised Brussels II Regulation and the 1996 Hague Convention on Recognition, Enforcement and Coperation in respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection
of Children. [23]
The Abduction Convention cannot be invoked if by the time of the alleged wrongful act, whether by removal or retention, the child is habitually resident in the state where the request for return is lodged. In such a case, that state has primary jurisdiction to decide on the merits, based on the child’s habitual residence, and there is no room
for a mandatory summary decision. [34]
Issue 2
Repudiatory retention has been recognised in some jurisdictions, but no generally accepted international practice or authority exists on the point. [39] The desirability of inducing a prompt change of mind in the retaining parent is an argument for recognising a repudiatory retention when and if it occurs. The 12 month time limit for seeking mandatory summary return runs from the point a repudiatory retention occurs and that period may pass before an applicant is aware of the repudiatory retention. However, it is not a limitation period but a provision in the child’s interest to limit mandatory summary return. Once elapsed it renders a summary return discretionary.

The concern that repudiatory retention would make Abduction Convention applications longer and more complicated is a point well made. However, Family Division judges are used to managing applications actively and controlling any tendency to spill outside the relevant issues. Further, if repudiatory retention requires an overt act or statement,
this lessens the danger of speculative applications. [46-48]
Repudiatory retention is possible in law. The objections to it are insubstantial, whereas the arguments in favour are convincing and conform to the scheme of the Abduction Convention. It would be unwise to attempt an exhaustive definition of proof or evidence. An objectively identifiable act of repudiation is required, but it need
not be communicated to the left-behind parent nor does an exact date need to be identifiable. [50-51]
On the present facts there could not have been a wrongful retention in April 2016 as the mother’s internal thinking could not by itself amount to such. If she had such an intention in November 2015, the application to the immigration authorities could have amounted to a repudiatory retention. But it was open to the judge to believe
the mother’s evidence that she did not possess this intention in November. [55] There is no basis in law for criticising the judge’s decision as to habitual residence. [57]
Lord Kerr dissents on the outcome of this case on its facts. He expresses misgivings about repudiatory retention requiring an overt act by the travelling parent. [63] The judge’s finding that wrongful retention did not arise in this case could not be reconciled with his statement that the mother had concluded by April 2016 that she and the children should remain in England. [68] Moreover, the judge’s conclusion that the mother had not formed any intention to retain the children in England in November 2015 is insupportable as he failed to address the question of what bearing the letter of November 2015 had on her intention. [72]
Lord Wilson also dissents on the outcome of this case on its facts. The solicitor’s letter to the immigration authorities in November 2015 represented a major obstacle to any finding that the mother had not by then intended to keep the children in the UK indefinitely. The judge’s finding as to the mother’s intention in November
2015 was flawed and the Court of Appeal were correct to order a fresh inquiry into her intention. [91-92]
References in square brackets are to paragraphs in the judgment
NOTE: This summary is provided to assist in understanding the Court’s decision. It does not form part of the reasons for the decision. The full judgment of the Court is the only authoritative document.
Judgments are public documents and are available at: http://supremecourt.uk/decided-cases/index.html