I appeared on BBC Breakfast this morning, 1 May 2013 and also on BBC Radio.
The topic? The ever increasing rate of child abduction cases.
This followed the report by the Office of the Head of International Family Justice for England & Wales, released today, which shows that the number of child abduction cases has risen from 3 from 2005, to 92 in 2010 and now to 253 last year, 2012.
I specialise in international family law cases and will deal with those involving parental child abduction. In some ways, this comes as no surprise and I see it as not only a national but also an international problem.
It is a reflection of modern day society where people are migrating for work reasons, meeting other nationals, having families but unfortunately when a relationship breaks down one parent or the other sometimes will take the law into their own hands and attempt to return to their “home” with the children. This can amount to a child abduction situation and which may also be a criminal offence.
The 1980 Hague Convention is an international agreement between countries which have signed up to it. This, in theory, is to provide for a speedy response by the court to resolve child abduction situations and to return a child to his or her place of habitual residence i.e. the place from which they came from and let the local court deal with matters. Countries, however, will vary in their approach to handling this type of child abduction work and, of course, there are a large number of countries which are not party to the 1980 Hague Convention, to include some Middle Eastern states, countries in Asia and so on. Where a child is abducted to a country which is not party to the 1980 Hague Convention it can be very difficult if not impossible to obtain an order for the child’s return.
There is sometimes a public perception that because a child may be a British national, the English courts can always assume jurisdiction to deal with the child and make orders to protect his or her welfare or, indeed, the British Government will step in to assist overseas and even pay legal costs. None of this, in reality, is true and an English court will only assume jurisdiction where it is right to do so, to include where the child is and remains habitually resident here.
Like most things in life therefore, prevention is better than cure. In any relationship where the family has an international dimension to it, there is always going to be an element of risk and, I suppose, there has to be an element of trust as well. This can be a very difficult time but once a child has left these shores it can be quite difficult to get the child back and not to mention the worry and emotional distress that would cause to a child and the family as a whole.
If you think that your child may be abducted or may be at risk of being imminently removed from this jurisdiction, what action may be appropriate. I would, as an indication, outline the following points:
1. Inform your local police station of the circumstances.
2. Inform your solicitor who can then make arrangements to obtain a court order to prevent the removal of a child as far as possible from England & Wales. This can include a prohibited steps order to forbid the other parent from removing the child from this jurisdiction or the other parent’s care. However, it is a civil type of order and it does not necessarily mean that the police have to get involved.
3. Contact the reunite advice line on 0116 2556234. This is a 24 hour emergency service which operates outside of normal hours.
4. It may be possible via the police or the family court to request the issue of an “all ports warning” but this still does not necessarily prevent the removal of a child from England & Wales.
5. Check and retain the child’s passport and check with the Passport Office of the United Kingdom Identity and Passports Service to see whether or not another passport has been granted to the child.
6. You may object to the passport service to issue a passport for a child, and this can be dealt with where there are a number of different types of protective orders in place, to include a residence order and/or a prohibited steps order. The passport service can be contacted by telephone on 0870 5210410.
7. Please note that matters are more complicated where the child may be entitled to obtain via a parent a foreign passport. Legal advice should be obtained and any court informed of this and the potential risk. You should potentially contact the Embassy or Consulate of the other country and ask them not to issue a passport to your child. They are not, however, obliged to do so.
8. On occasions, it may be necessary to take fingerprints of a child because they may be used in the future to identify your child.
9. Reunite offer a prevention guide together with the supporting information.
International child abduction is a very serious matter and can have significant impact to a child and the family as a whole.
Where there is a fear or risk of an abduction type situation then you must seek immediate legal advice from a specialist family law solicitor