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The Supreme Court has handed down its judgment in In the matter of J (a child)  UKSC 70 (on appeal from  EWCA Civ 329). The appeal concerned the application of the 1996 Hague Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children (‘the 1996 Convention’); in particular the scope of the jurisdiction conferred by article 11 in ‘all cases of urgency’ on a contracting state where a child is present but not habitually resident.
The 1996 Convention came into force in the United Kingdom on 1 November 2012 and has not previously been considered by the Supreme Court. The subject of the proceedings is a child born in January 2007. His parents are both from Morocco and hold Moroccan and British citizenship. The parents lived in England when the child was born but moved first to Saudi Arabia in 2009 and then to Morocco in 2011. The marriage broke down in December 2011. The child lived with his mother, who was granted residential custody by the local family court in 2012. His father was granted and exercised visiting rights. The mother moved to England in January 2013 but the child remained in the care of his maternal grandparents until 14 September 2013, when the mother brought him to England. Since then the child has lived here with her and her new husband, whom she married in January 2013 and with whom she now has another child. The father has had no face-to-face contact with the child since.
The father applied on 23 September 2013 to the Moroccan Family Court for an order granting him residential custody but this was refused on 16 January 2014. On 14 March 2014 the father brought proceedings in the High Court seeking an order that the child be made a ward of court and for directions for his summary return to Morocco. The judge found that the father had not consented to the removal from Morocco, which was wrongful, and that the child had been habitually resident in Morocco before his removal. An order was made for the mother to return the child to Morocco. It was not argued before the High Court that the effect of the 1996 Convention was that he had no jurisdiction to make the order he did.
The mother appealed to the Court of Appeal, which held that the English courts did not have jurisdiction under the 1996 Convention, or on any other basis, on the facts of this case. In cases where a child was habitually resident in another state, as in this case, jurisdiction only arises in cases of urgency under article 11. This was not such a case because the father could have made an immediate application to the Moroccan court for a return order.
Supreme Court judgment
The Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal, holding that it is open to the English courts to exercise the article 11 jurisdiction in cases of wrongful removal under the 1996 Convention, and ordered that the case be returned to the High Court for a decision as to whether it is appropriate to do so in the circumstances of this case. Lady Hale, with whom the other justices all agreed, gave the only substantive judgment.
The Supreme Court's reasons are:
Accordingly the appeal was allowed but rather than simply restore the judge’s order for return, the Supreme Court directed that the case should be returned to the judge for a new decision approached on the proper footing, namely whether the English court should exercise the jurisdiction conferred by article 11 of the 1996 Convention and, if so, in what way. That question will be answered on the basis of up-to-date information about the child and, if necessary, about Moroccan law, with attention also to be given to the question of whether an order for interim contact between the child and his father should be made [paras 41-44].
Geraldine Morris is a solicitor and Head of LexisPSL Family.
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