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Case Name

A. v. B. (Abduction: Declaration) [2008] EWHC 2524 (Fam.), [2009] 1 FLR 1253

INCADAT reference

HC/E/FR 1056





High Court (Family Division)


First Instance

Bodey J.

States involved

Requesting State


Requested State




30 September 2008




Rights of Custody - Art. 3 | Article 15 Decision or Determination


Article 15 declaration granted

HC article(s) Considered


HC article(s) Relied Upon


Other provisions


Authorities | Cases referred to
Re C. (A Child) (Unmarried Father: Custody Rights) [2002] EWHC 2219 (Fam.), [2003] 1 WLR 493, [2003] 1 FLR 252; Re D. (A Child) (Abduction: Custody Rights) [2006] UKHL 51, [2007] 1 AC 619, [2006] 3 WLR 989, [2007] 1 FLR 961; Re H. (A Minor) (Abduction: Rights of Custody) [2000] 2 AC 291, [2000] 2 WLR 337, [2000] 1 FLR 374; Re J. (Abduction: Declaration of Wrongful Removal) [1999] 2 FLR 653; Re P. (Abduction: Declaration) [1995] 1 FLR 831.
Published in


INCADAT comment

Article 12 Return Mechanism

Rights of Custody
Article 15 Decision or Determination
Inchoate Rights of Custody


Summary available in EN


The application related to a child born in 2001 to a British father and a French mother. Barring an 18 month period in the aftermath of the birth, the parents had lived together from 1998 until September 2007. The parents were not married and following the birth the father had not otherwise obtained parental responsibility in respect of the child.

On 17 September 2007 the father discovered that the mother was planning to travel to France with the child. On 18 September 2007, following an ex parte application, the father was granted parental responsibility and the mother was prohibited from removing the child from the jurisdiction. Later the same day the mother took the child to France.

On 21 September the original orders were reconfirmed and the father was awarded residence. The mother was served with the two sets of orders on 25 September 2007. In October the father applied via the English Central Authority for the return of his daughter.

On 13 June 2008 the father's return application was dismissed by the Tribunal de Grande Instance at Rennes on the basis that at the time of the removal no rights of custody had been breached, the mother only having been served on 25 September 2007. The father lodged an appeal against that ruling and meanwhile sought an Article 15 declaration from the High Court in London as to whether he / or the court held rights of custody at the moment of the removal.


Article 15 declaration granted; both the English courts and the applicant father held rights of custody in respect of the child at the moment of the child's removal.


Rights of Custody - Art. 3

The trial judge then considered whether the English courts or the father otherwise held rights of custody at the time of the removal of the child. He noted that in accordance with the decision of the House of Lords in Re H. (A Minor) (Abduction: Rights of Custody) [2000] 2 AC 291 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 268] a court engaged in proceedings relating to parental responsibility would generally be vested with custody rights when the respondent had been served.

However, there were exceptions to this general rule, notably where interim, ex parte orders had been made. In such situations the court would acquire rights of custody once there had been some judicial determination, even if only by way of judicial case management. In the present case the ex parte application had actually resulted in a substantive order being made.

The latter was deemed to be effective once made, even though it had not been served on the mother. Consequently, the English court had rights of custody when the mother removed the child. The trial judge found that the father equally held custody rights at this time.

Author of summary: Peter McEleavy

Article 15 Decision or Determination

Relying on Re P. (Abduction: Declaration) [1995] 1 FLR 831 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 9] the trial judge acknowledged that in accordance with United Kingdom procedural rules an Article 15 decision or determination could be sought by any person appearing to the Court to have an interest in the matter.

The trial judge reflected on the appropriateness of making an Article 15 order in the light of the advanced stage of the French Convention proceedings and concluded that it was appropriate to make such an order. The declaration was not intended to trespass on the functions of the French court but, in the interests of international comity, sought to correct the flawed advice the French court had previously been given on the attribution of custody rights as understood by English law.

INCADAT comment

In Mercredi v. Chaffe [2011] EWCA Civ. 272 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 1064] reliance had been placed at trial on the approach adopted by Bodey J. with regard to the granting of an Article 15 declaration during the pendency of the French return proceedings. This was strongly criticized by the Court of Appeal panel. Thorpe L.J. held that (para. 63): "As a matter of comity and the collaboration of courts within the European Union the London judge had an obligation to support the proper conclusions of the French court or, at the least, not to enter into a litigation strategy to undermine the order."

Article 15 Decision or Determination

The Role and Interpretation of Article 15

Article 15 is an innovative mechanism which reflects the cooperation which is central to the 1980 Hague Convention.  It provides that the authorities of a Contracting State may, prior to making a return order, request that the applicant obtain from the authorities of the child's State of habitual residence a decision or other determination that the removal or retention was wrongful within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention, where such a decision or determination may be obtained in that State. The Central Authorities of the Contracting States shall so far as practicable assist applicants to obtain such a decision or determination.

Scope of the Article 15 Decision or Determination Mechanism

Common law jurisdictions are divided as to the role to be played by the Article 15 mechanism, in particular whether the court in the child's State of habitual residence should make a finding as to the wrongfulness of the removal or retention, or, whether it should limit its decision to the extent to which the applicant possesses custody rights under its own law.  This division cannot be dissociated from the autonomous nature of custody rights for Convention purposes as well as that of 'wrongfulness' i.e. when rights of custody are to be deemed to have been breached.

United Kingdom - England & Wales
The Court of Appeal favoured a very strict position with regard to the scope of Article 15:

Hunter v. Murrow [2005] EWCA Civ 976, [2005] 2 F.L.R. 1119 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 809].

The Court held that where the question for determination in the requested State turned on a point of autonomous Convention law (e.g. wrongfulness) then it would be difficult to envisage any circumstances in which an Article 15 request would be worthwhile.

Deak v. Deak [2006] EWCA Civ 830 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 866].

This position was however reversed by the House of Lords in the Deak case:

Re D. (A Child) (Abduction: Rights of Custody) [2007] 1 AC 619, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 880].

Whilst there was unanimity as to the utility and binding nature of a ruling of a foreign court as to the content of the rights held by an applicant, Baroness Hale, with whom Lord Hope and Lord Brown agreed, further specified that the foreign court would additionally be much better placed than the English court to understand the true meaning and effect of its own laws in Convention terms.

New Zealand
Fairfax v. Ireton [2009] NZFLR 433 (NZ CA), [INCADAT cite: HC/E/NZ 1018].

A majority in the Court of Appeal, approving of the position adopted by the English Court of Appeal in Hunter v. Morrow, held that a court seised of an Article 15 decision or determination should restrict itself to reporting on matters of national law and not stray into the classification of a removal as being wrongful or not; the latter was exclusively a matter for the court in the State of refuge in the light of its assessment of the autonomous law of the Convention. 

Status of an Article 15 Decision or Determination

The status to be accorded to an Article 15 decision or determination has equally generated controversy, in particular the extent to which a foreign ruling should be determinative as regards the existence, or inexistence, of custody rights and in relation to the issue of wrongfulness.

In the Marriage of R. v. R., 22 May 1991, transcript, Full Court of the Family Court of Australia (Perth), [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 257];

The court noted that a decision or determination under Article 15 was persuasive only and that it was ultimately a matter for the French courts to decide whether there had been a wrongful removal.

United Kingdom - England & Wales
Hunter v. Murrow [2005] EWCA Civ 976, [2005] 2 F.L.R. 1119, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 809].

The Court of Appeal held that an Article 15 decision or determination was not binding and it rejected the determination of wrongfulness made by the New Zealand High Court: M. v. H. [Custody] [2006] NZFLR 623 (HC), [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 1021]. In so doing it noted that New Zealand courts did not recognise the sharp distinction between rights of custody and rights of access which had been accepted in the United Kingdom.

Deak v. Deak [2006] EWCA Civ 830, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 866].

The Court of Appeal declined to accept the finding of the Romanian courts that the father did not have rights of custody for the purposes of the Convention.

This position was however reversed by the House of Lords in the Deak case:

Re D. (A Child) (Abduction: Rights of Custody) [2007] 1 AC 619, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 880].

The House of Lords held unanimously that where an Article 15 decision or determination was sought the ruling of the foreign court as to the content of the rights held by the applicant must be treated as conclusive, save in exceptional cases where, for example, the ruling had been obtained by fraud or in breach of the rules of natural justice. Such circumstances were absent in the present case, therefore the trial court and the Court of Appeal had erred in disregarding the decision of the Bucharest Court of Appeal and in allowing fresh evidence to be adduced.

As regards the characterisation of the parent's rights, Baroness Hale, with whom Lord Hope and Lord Brown agreed, held that it would only be where this was clearly out of line with the international understanding of the Convention's terms, as might well have been the case in Hunter v. Murrow, should the court in the requested state decline to follow it. For his part Lord Brown affirmed that the determination of content and classification by the foreign court should almost invariably be treated as conclusive.

5A_479/2007/frs, Tribunal fédéral, IIè cour civile, 17 octobre 2007, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/CH 953].

The Swiss supreme court held that a finding on custody rights would in principle bind the authorities in the requested State.  As regards an Article 15 decision or determination, the court noted that commentators were divided as to the effect in the requested State and it declined to make a finding on the issue.

Practical Implications of Seeking an Article 15 Decision or Determination

Recourse to the Article 15 mechanism will inevitably lead to delay in the conduct of a return petition, particularly should there happen to be an appeal against the original determination by the authorities in the State of habitual residence. See for example:

Re D. (A Child) (Abduction: Rights of Custody) [2007] 1 AC 619, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 880].

This practical reality has in turn generated a wide range of judicial views.

In Re D. a variety of opinions were canvassed. Lord Carswell affirmed that resort to the procedure should be kept to a minimum. Lord Brown noted that it would only be used on rare occasions. Lord Hope counselled against seeking perfection in ascertaining whether a removal or retention was wrongful, rather a balance had to be struck between acting on too little information and searching for too much. Baroness Hale noted that when a country first acceded to the Convention Article 15 might be useful in cases of doubt to obtain an authoritative ruling on the content and effect of the local law.

New Zealand
Fairfax v. Ireton [2009] NZFLR 433 (NZ CA), [INCADAT cite: HC/E/NZ 1018].

The majority in the Court of Appeal, suggested that Article 15 requests should only rarely be made as between Australia and New Zealand, given the similarities of the legal systems.

Alternatives to Seeking an Article 15 Decision or Determination

Whilst courts may simply wish to determine the foreign law in the light of the available information, an alternative is to seek expert evidence.  Experience in England and Wales has shown that this is far from fool-proof and does not necessarily result in time being saved, see: 

Re F. (A Child) (Abduction: Refusal to Order Summary Return) [2009] EWCA Civ 416, [2009] 2 F.L.R. 1023, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 1020].

In the latter case Thorpe L.J. suggested that greater recourse could be made to the European Judicial Network, through the International Family Law Office at the Royal Courts of Justice. Pragmatic advice could be offered as to the best route to follow in a particular case: whether to go for a single joint expert; whether to go for an Article 15 decision or determination; or whether to go for an opinion from the liaison judge as to the law of his own country, an opinion that would not be binding but which would perhaps help the parties and the trial court to see the weight, or want of weight, in the challenge to the plaintiff's ability to cross the Article 3 threshold.

Inchoate Rights of Custody

The reliance on 'inchoate custody rights', to afford a Convention remedy to applicants who have actively cared for removed or retained children, but who do not possess legal custody rights, was first identified in the English decision:

Re B. (A Minor) (Abduction) [1994] 2 FLR 249 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 4],

and has subsequently been followed in that jurisdiction in:

Re O. (Child Abduction: Custody Rights) [1997] 2 FLR 702, [1997] Fam Law 781 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 5];

Re G. (Abduction: Rights of Custody) [2002] 2 FLR 703 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 505].

The concept has been the subject of judicial consideration in:

Re W. (Minors) (Abduction: Father's Rights) [1999] Fam 1 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/Uke 503];

Re B. (A Minor) (Abduction: Father's Rights) [1999] Fam 1 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 504];

Re G. (Child Abduction) (Unmarried Father: Rights of Custody) [2002] EWHC 2219 (Fam); [2002] ALL ER (D) 79 (Nov), [2003] 1 FLR 252 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 506].

In one English first instance decision: Re J. (Abduction: Declaration of Wrongful Removal) [1999] 2 FLR 653 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 265], it was questioned whether the concept was in accordance with the decision of the House of Lords in Re J. (A Minor) (Abduction: Custody Rights) [1990] 2 AC 562, [1990] 2 All ER 961, [1990] 2 FLR 450, sub nom C. v. S. (A Minor) (Abduction) [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 2] where it was held that de facto custody was not sufficient to amount to rights of custody for the purposes of the Convention.

The concept of 'inchoate custody rights', has attracted support and opposition in other Contracting States.

The concept has attracted support in a New Zealand first instance case: Anderson v. Paterson [2002] NZFLR 641 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/NZ 471].

However, the concept was specifically rejected by the majority of the Irish Supreme Court in the decision of: H.I. v. M.G. [1999] 2 ILRM 1; [2000] 1 IR 110 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/IE 284].

Keane J. stated that it would go too far to accept that there was 'an undefined hinterland of inchoate rights of custody not attributed in any sense by the law of the requesting state to the party asserting them or to the court itself, but regard by the court of the requested state as being capable of protection under the terms of the Convention.'

The Court of Justice of the European Union has subsequently upheld the position adopted by the Irish Courts:

Case C-400/10 PPU J. McB. v. L.E., [INCADAT cite: HC/E/ 1104].

In its ruling the European Court noted that the attribution of rights of custody, which were not accorded to an unmarried father under national law, would be incompatible with the requirements of legal certainty and with the need to protect the rights and freedoms of others, notably those of the mother. 

This formulation leaves open the status of ‘incohate rights’ in a EU Member State where the concept had become part of national law.  The United Kingdom (England & Wales) would fall into this category, but it must be recalled that pursuant to the terms of Protocol (No. 30) on the Application of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union to Poland and to the United Kingdom (OJ C 115/313, 9 May 2008), the CJEU could not in any event make a finding of inconsistency with regard to UK law vis-a-vis Charter rights. 

For academic criticism of the concept of inchoate rights see: Beaumont P.R. and McEleavy P.E. 'The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction' Oxford, OUP, 1999, at p. 60.