Family Law Hub

Re S (Children) (Inherent Jurisdiction: Setting Aside Return Order) [2021] EWCA Civ 1223

The mother appealed against an order dismissing her applications under the inherent jurisdiction in respect of her children who were residing with their father in Libya. She submitted that the judge had wrongly interpreted and applied the rules in relation to the setting aside of an order under the inherent jurisdiction and in particular had failed to consider whether the children's welfare required the non-return order to be set aside. She also submitted that the judge had given undue weight to the likelihood that an order would not be directly and reciprocally enforced in Libya. For the father it was submitted that the judge had correctly identified the applicable law and made correct findings, and that the judge's characterisation of the mother's litigation conduct as Henderson abuse was a good example of judicial vigilance against repeat applications. In Baker LJ's judgment, to import Henderson abuse into children's proceedings was neither necessary nor appropriate: for example, where a child's welfare was in issue, a second application to the court would rarely be capable of being simply dismissed as a collateral attack on the first decision. He also disagreed as to the relevance of whether the order would be enforceable in Libya: the court was required to assess the welfare of the children, not the enforceability of its order. He also disagreed with the judge's two primary reasons for dismissing the mother's application. He concluded that the judge's approach to the set aside application had been flawed and that the mother's appeal against his decision to dismiss the application had to be allowed. Stuart-Smith LJ and Moylan LJ agreed.

Judgment, published: 24/08/2021

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  • The mother was English, and the father was Libyan, with a British passport. They had three children, aged 3, 5 and 6. The mother had left Libya in 2018 but the children had remained there. She now applied under the inherent jurisdiction for orders that the court should protect the children, invoking "the ancient parens patriae jurisdiction": the Crown's obligation to protect those who are unable to protect themselves. She had not raised this in previous unsuccessful proceedings, relying instead on habitual residence and/or Article 10. Had this been a case about money, Mostyn J said, the failure to advance the parens patriae case first time round would not have been justified and therefore the current case would have been stopped for Henderson abuse. However, because this was a case about children, he decided that this should instead be considered as part of the overall discretionary exercise as to whether the jurisdiction should be exercised. He found that the circumstances in this case were not sufficiently compelling to require the court to exercise its protective jurisdiction. The evidence showed that an order for repatriation which sought the assistance of the Libyan authorities would be futile. It did not show there had been a major deterioration in the security situation in Libya since the relocation to Libya, to which the wife had consented, nor since the previous order had been made, such that would justify it being set aside. The mother's application was dismissed. Mostyn J urged the father to allow the mother to have meaningful contact with her children. Judgment, 20/01/2021, free

Published: 24/08/2021

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