Family Law Hub

H (Jurisdiction) [2016] EWHC 1252 (Fam)

Mother's application for the court to make a limited order requiring the father to give information about their child's whereabouts. The father was directed to provide the required information within 14 days.

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    This judgment was delivered in private. The judge has given leave for this version of the judgment to be published on condition that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgment) in any published version of the judgment the anonymity of the persons concerned must be strictly preserved. All persons, including representatives of the media, must ensure that this condition is strictly complied with. Failure to do so will be a contempt of court.

    Case No: FD14P01073

    Neutral Citation Number: [2016] EWHC 1252 (Fam)

    IN THE FAMILY COURT

    26 May 2016

    Before :

    THE HONOURABLE MR JUSTICE PETER JACKSON

    Sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice

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    Between :

    HH (Applicant)

    -and-

    SH (Respondent)

    JUDGMENT: Re H (Jurisdiction)

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    Hassan Khan (instructed by Dawson Cornwell) for the Applicant

    Paul Hepher (instructed by Jones Myers) for the Respondent

    Hearing dates: 25 May 2016

    Judgment date: 26 May 2016

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    JUDGMENT
    Mr Justice Peter Jackson:

    1. In this matter, I have ordered a father to give full information about the whereabouts of a six-year-old child who is a British national but is not known to have been present in this country at any stage, let alone been habitually resident here.

    2. The circumstances are highly unusual. The parents, who are first cousins, are both Afghan nationals. The father came to this country in 2000 and has since 2007 been a British citizen. In 2006, he and the mother were married in Afghanistan and in December 2009, their first child Z was born there. Z is a dual Afghan/British citizen. When he was four weeks old, he was placed by his parents in the care of their mutual uncle and at the same time they themselves came to England in disputed circumstances. Once here, the mother again became pregnant, but the parents' relationship soon broke down and she left the father. In December 2010, she gave birth to D, a girl who is now aged five. The mother now has indefinite leave to remain in this country and the parents, who remain separated, have been habitually resident here since January 2010. The father has never met D.

    3. In February 2011, the mother began wardship proceedings in relation to Z, seeking to have him brought to England. The father's response was that the child had disappeared from the uncle's home in January 2011 and that his whereabouts was unknown. An order was made requiring the father to bring the child to England, but that order was overturned by the Court of Appeal in August 2011 on the basis that the English court lacked jurisdiction because Z was not habitually resident here.

    4. In October 2013, the power of the High Court to make protective orders under its inherent jurisdiction on the basis of a child's British nationality was identified in the decision of the Supreme Court in Re A (Jurisdiction: Return of Child) [2013] UKSC 60. Following that decision, the mother renewed her efforts to invoke the assistance of this court, though it was not until December 2014 that she obtained legal aid to do so. A location order was made and in consequence the father's passport was seized. In October 2015, the matter came before Newton J for a fact-finding hearing and in November 2015 he delivered a judgment in which he found that the father had travelled to Afghanistan and removed Z from the care of the uncle in January 2011. He found that the father knows precisely where Z is to this day. In reaching these conclusions, the judge accepted the evidence of the mother and the uncle and rejected the evidence of the father. One salient feature of the evidence was that the father had in 2012 posted on his Facebook page a photograph of Z in which the child appeared to be 2? years old.

    5. Before Newton J, the father denied knowing anything about Z's whereabouts since January 2011. He continues to maintain that stance despite the judge's findings. Accordingly, this court as yet knows nothing about Z's circumstances beyond the fact that he was habitually resident in Afghanistan until the age of one, at which point he was removed from the care of the uncle by the father. It is not known whether he remains in Afghanistan or whether he has been taken elsewhere, perhaps to one of the other countries to which members of the father's family have emigrated. It is unknown to the court whether he is safe or not, or even whether he is alive.

    6. Against that background, Mr Khan on behalf of the mother invited the Court to make a limited order requiring the father to give information about the child's whereabouts now and since 2011, and about his general circumstances. That application was opposed by Mr Hepher for the father.

    7. It is common ground that the court possesses the power to make the order sought by the mother. The issue is whether it is appropriate to exercise that power in this case.

    8. That question was considered by the Supreme Court in Re A and also by that court and the Court of Appeal in the later decision in Re B (A Child) (Habitual Residence: Inherent Jurisdiction) [2016] UKSC 4. Although the observations on the subject in those cases are largely incidental to the decisions themselves, they are nonetheless helpful and from them I gain this assistance:

    (1) The court should be extremely circumspect in exercising powers on the basis of nationality alone, but all must depend upon the circumstances of the particular case: Re A, Baroness Hale at [65].

    (2) The need for caution has three main reasons: avoiding a conflict of jurisdictions; avoiding a conflict of decisions; and avoiding the making of unenforceable orders: Re B, Baroness Hale and Lord Toulson at [59].

    (3) However, the exercise of the inherent jurisdiction is not confined to extreme cases: Re B, Baroness Hale and Lord Toulson at [60].

    (4) The question is whether the child requires protection: Re B, Baroness Hale and Lord Toulson at [60], Lord Wilson at [53].

    9. Mr Hepher's submissions on behalf of the father are these:

    (1) The court should not make even the limited orders sought by the mother because she is seeking to use the jurisdiction for custodial rather than protective purposes. It is inevitable that she will seek to enforce any order that is not obeyed and that she will go on to seek broader orders.

    (2) To make any orders would offend the principle of comity. The investigation of Z's situation is in the hands of the Afghan authorities and the court should not cut across those or seek to take over.

    (3) The mother is at liberty to take proceedings in Afghanistan and the court should not judge the effectiveness of that remedy to be inadequate: Black LJ in Re B [53].

    (4) The circumstances here are not of the extreme kind envisaged for the exercise of the jurisdiction: Black LJ in Re B [40]. There is no evidence of Z being at risk of serious harm.

    (5) There is no precedent for the exercise of the court's powers in circumstances of the kind found in this case.

    10. In response, Mr Khan submits:

    (1) There is no requirement that the circumstances must be extreme. In Re A itself, the justification for exercising jurisdiction was no more than that the child's three siblings were habitually resident in England and Wales while he was not.

    (2) The mother is presently only seeking an order that the father should provide information. But even if she were seeking an order that Z should be brought to England that would not be a custodial order: Re A, Baroness Hale at [28].

    (3) There is no evidence, other than the father's word, of any police involvement in Afghanistan (at least not since 2011) and neither parent has taken any form of legal proceeding there. In November 2015, the head of the CID in Kabul informed this court that the father's account of there having been a kidnap investigation was incorrect and that the documents that the father had provided to this court were not genuine. (In fairness to the father, Newton J did not make any express finding about this.)

    (4) The English court is the appropriate forum, given that both parents are habitually resident here and have the benefit of publicly funded lawyers.

    (5) All international instruments are founded upon the best interests of the child. It is in Z's best interests that his circumstances should be known.

    11. After giving careful consideration to the question of principle raised by this application, I concluded that this is clearly a case in which it is appropriate for the court to exercise its protective powers. My reasons are these:

    (1) The order is necessary for Z's welfare and protection. He is a British citizen whose whereabouts and circumstances are unknown to the court and to his mother. Until that information is available, a high level of concern must exist about his welfare, if only because he has been separated from his mother against her will for almost the whole of his life. The fact that there is no actual evidence of serious harm gives no reassurance as it is no more than the result of there being no evidence at all. Even if it was a requirement that the jurisdiction can only be exercised in extreme circumstances (and in my view there is no such requirement), these circumstances are extreme.

    (2) The court must approach matters in stages. I do not accept that by making any order the court must make every order that the mother seeks. The matter must be assessed as it develops. The considerations that might apply to an application for an order that Z should be brought to this country may be entirely different to those that apply to the present application.

    (3) There is no lack of comity or potential for conflict in making such an order because, at least since 2011, there has been no police or legal activity in Afghanistan at all, and nor is any likely.

    (4) The mother is in no position to seek remedies in Afghanistan without knowing Z's whereabouts, particularly as he may no longer be in that country.

    (5) The solution to this deeply troubling situation lies in this country because it is here that the father resides. It is only by this court exercising its powers that a remedy is likely to be available.

    (6) The fact that there is no precedent for an order of this kind is a reflection of the highly unusual facts. It cannot be a reason for inaction.

    12. I have therefore directed the father to provide the required information within 14 days. Once the information has been provided, the matter will be restored for further consideration. If the order is not complied with, the mother will no doubt be advised concerning its enforcement.

Judgment, published: 27/05/2016

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Items referring to this

  • In a tweet: Judgment declining jurisdiction in respect of two children habitually resident in Bosnia. In brief: Mr Justice Bodey found that the issues could and should have been raised before the Bosnian court, where it was accepted that the children were habitually resident. The idea that jurisdiction could be established for dealing with a one-off urgent situation (in this case the mother’s application to relocate to Serbia in two days’ time) was undesirable – “one does not dip in and out of jurisdiction”. Judgment, 31/10/2016, free

Published: 27/05/2016

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