International Child Abduction and Relocation – Court grants permission for relocation of a child from the UK to Sierra Leone
If you were a separated parent and the other parent relocated your child from the UK to Sierra Leone without your consent, what would you do? What do you think a Court would do in such circumstances?
The initial gut reaction for most people may be to assume that the child would be returned to the UK. However, a recent case has hit headlines as in the above circumstances, the High Court has ruled that a 14-year-old boy, B, should remain living in Sierra Leone.
The background to this case is that the parents of B are both from Sierra Leone, had met in London, married and had three children together before separating. However, in 2019, the mother took B to Sierra Leone to live with his maternal grandmother, who is a Police Officer in Sierra Leone. The two younger children of the family remained living with the mother in London.
The mother had not obtained the father’s consent before relocating B to Sierra Leone. The father therefore applied for an order to return B to the UK and for a child arrangements order to deal with contact between him and the two younger children of the family who were still living in London. Upon the father’s application, the mother made her own application, asking the Court to retrospectively grant permission for B to relocate to Sierra Leone until 2022, when he would complete his GCSE’s.
The father had not seen any of the children for three years and the mother sought that contact between him and the two younger children of the family be supervised due to domestic abuse. In the Children Act proceedings, findings had been made against the father in respect of the allegations of domestic abuse.
Before taking B to Sierra Leone, the mother was extremely concerned that B was going off the rails, having been permanently excluded from school and getting involved with county lines gangs. Due to B having been permanently excluded from school, he would have had to complete his education at a pupil referral unit and the mother was worried that would have an irreparable impact on his education.
The Court stated that the mother’s removal of B to Sierra Leone and retention there were wrongful as she had not obtained the father’s consent.
However, when CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) spoke to B, he was very clear that his wish was to remain in Sierra Leone to complete his GCSE’s. In his judgment, Mr Justice Mostyn considered B’s wishes and the weight that they should be given.
Mr Justice Mostyn made it clear that the decision of a child is not decisive in proceedings of wardship or under the Children Act 1989 and if it is in their best interests, the Court has the power to override the decision of the child.
However, Mr Justice Mostyn also stated that the wishes of a Gillick-competent child on a particular issue should be given effect where it is not objectively foolish or unreasonable. A Gillick competent child refers to a child having sufficient understanding and intelligence to be capable of making up his own mind on the matter requiring decision. A child with that requisite understanding and intelligence is usually described as Gillick competent.
Whether a child is considered Gillick competent or not in respect of a decision, will depend upon the individual circumstances of the child, the decision to be made and the individual circumstances of the case in question.
In this case, Mr Justice Mostyn stated that he was not satisfied that B’s wishes were objectively foolish or unreasonable and therefore, that it was in B’s best interests that they should not be overridden. As such, an order was made permitting B to remain in Sierra Leone until 2022.
When coming to his decision Mr Justice Mostyn considered B’s education in Sierra Leone was satisfactory and that there were no serious concerns as to care being provided to B by his maternal family.
In relation to the child arrangements between the father and the younger two children of the family, it was ordered that supervised contact in a contact centre should take place fortnightly, once contact centres re-opened. In the meantime, contact was to take place via video-call once per week. Once sufficient sessions of supervised contact at a contact centre had taken place, the matter was to be reviewed by the Court to see how the father’s relationship with the two younger children could be progressed.
This case is interesting and topical, as it demonstrates the Court granting an international relocation order retrospectively, despite it clearly being stated that the mother had wrongfully removed and retained B in Sierra Leone. Whilst it was also made clear that the Court can of course override a child’s decision and wishes if it is in their best interests to do so, this case does also demonstrate how the Court may approach a teenager’s wishes in such circumstances.
The world is certainly becoming a smaller place and at Maguire Family Law, we specialise in international family law. We have assisted parents with international children matters all over the world and if you are facing issues, do not hesitate to contact us and we will help in every way that we can.