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Case Name

Central Authority v. B 2009 (1) SA 624 (W)

INCADAT reference

HC/E/ZA 720





Witwatersrand Local Division


First Instance

Van Oosten J

States involved

Requesting State


Requested State




20 August 2008




Aims of the Convention - Preamble, Arts 1 and 2 | Acquiescence - Art. 13(1)(a) | Undertakings | Settlement of the Child - Art. 12(2) | Role of the Central Authorities - Arts 6 - 10 | Procedural Matters


Return refused

HC article(s) Considered

3 13(1)(a) 12(2) 12(1)

HC article(s) Relied Upon


Other provisions


Authorities | Cases referred to
Central Authority v H 2008 (1) SA 49 (SCA); Central Authority (South Africa) v A 2007 (5) SA 501 (W); Chief Family Advocate and Another v G 2003 (2) SA 599 (W); Pennello v Pennello (Chief Family Advocate as Amicus Curiae) 2004 (3) SA 117 (SCA); Sonderup v Tondelli and Another 2001 (1) SA 1171 (CC) (2001 (2) BCLR 152); WS v LS 2000 (4) SA 104 (C).

INCADAT comment

Aims & Scope of the Convention

Convention Aims
Convention Aims

Exceptions to Return

Settlement of the child
Equitable Tolling

Implementation & Application Issues

Measures to Facilitate the Return of Children
Procedural Matters
Oral Evidence


Summary available in EN


The proceedings concerned a child born in October 2004 in the United States of America to a South African mother and an American mother. The parents were married and the family lived in Illinois, United States of America, until the mother took the child to South Africa on 13 May 2006. The reasons for the mother returning to her home country were the subject of dispute, though the trial Court found that there were "clear indications of an unhappy marriage relationship".

In April and June 2007, the father sought legal advice in the United States of America, but was not informed of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention. In August 2007, the father travelled to South Africa to see his daughter. After several visits, the parents argued and the father then obtained an interim access order.

On 8 September 2007, the father notified the United States of America Central Authority, which filed a return request on 23 April 2008. On 16 May 2008, the Family Advocate interviewed the mother who refused to return the child voluntarily.

The Family Advocate then enrolled the return application for hearing in the urgent court. It was subsequently held by Jajbhay J. that the application was not urgent and it was placed on the ordinary opposed motion roll for one month later.


Return refused; more than a year had elapsed before the commencement of return proceedings and the child was found to be settled in her new environment.


Aims of the Convention - Preamble, Arts 1 and 2

The Court affirmed that the purpose of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention was to ensure, save in exceptional cases provided for in Article 13, and possibly in Article 20, that the best interests of a child whose custody was in dispute should be considered by the appropriate court.

Acquiescence - Art. 13(1)(a)

It was submitted that the father had acquiesced in the removal in the light of comments he made in a telephone conversation. The Court held however that in the light of existing South Africa authority that acquiescence or consent should not lightly be inferred from a party's conduct. This was because they concerned the state of mind of the left-behind parent and therefore only conduct or expressions which were unequivocally consistent with consent or acquiescence would suffice, see: Central Authority v. H 2008 (1) SA 49 (SCA) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ZA 900]. A definitive position could not however be reached as to acquiescence as this would require oral evidence to be heard.


The Court criticised the fact that it not been provided with any information or firm undertakings in regard to the mother or the child's welfare in the event of a return order being made.

Settlement of the Child - Art. 12(2)

It was submitted that the father should not be prejudiced by the delay resulting from his ignorance of his Convention rights, which was exacerbated by the lack of proper legal advice and, moreover, for the delay caused by the requesting State taking more than seven months to forward the return request. If allowance were made for such delays then the commencement of return proceedings would fall within the one year period provided for in Article 12 of the Convention.

The Court rejected this submission, finding that on a proper reading of Article 12 there was no allowance for a discretionary determination of the one- year period. As the proceedings were commenced outside the one year period, regard could be had to whether the child was settled within her new environment for the purposes of Article 12(2).

The Court noted that neither the father nor the Family Advocate had challenged the mother's submission that the child was settled in her new environment. The Court noted that the child attended nursery, was involved in various extramural activities, had made friends and often socialised with her family. Furthermore a report by a forensic social worker had concluded that the child was settled and secure.

The Court concluded that the child was settled in her new environment. The Court recalled that under Article 18 of the Convention, it remained vested with a discretion to order the return of the child. The Court exercised its discretion to refuse the child's return.

Role of the Central Authorities - Arts 6 - 10

The Court noted that the Family Advocate was designated to represent the Central Authority in South Africa. The Court held that even where it was necessary for the Family Advocate to adopt an adversarial role in regard to one of the parents, he / she must remain objective and not take sides.

Procedural Matters

Oral Evidence:
The Court held that the disputes as to the wrongfulness of the removal of the child, consent and acquiescence could only be resolved after the hearing of oral evidence. The Court noted however that to receive such evidence would inevitably delay the proceedings and so dealt with issues that could be resolved on the basis of affidavit evidence.

The Court held that the Family Advocate's enrolment of the return application in the urgent court was clearly unjustified, therefore it was only just and fair that the mother should be compensated for the wasted costs occasioned by the hearing in the urgent court. Otherwise the parties were to pay their own costs.

Author of the summary: Peter McEleavy

INCADAT comment

Convention Aims

Courts in all Contracting States must inevitably make reference to and evaluate the aims of the Convention if they are to understand the purpose of the instrument, and so be guided in how its concepts should be interpreted and provisions applied.

The 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention, explicitly and implicitly, embodies a range of aims and objectives, positive and negative, as it seeks to achieve a delicate balance between the competing interests of the central actors; the child, the left behind parent and the abducting parent, see for example the discussion in the decision of the Canadian Supreme Court: W.(V.) v. S.(D.), (1996) 2 SCR 108, (1996) 134 DLR 4th 481 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 17].

Article 1 identifies the core aims, namely that the Convention seeks:
"a) to secure the prompt return of children wrongfully removed to or retained in any Contracting State; and
 b) to ensure that rights of custody and of access under the law of one Contracting State are effectively respected in the other Contracting States."

Further clarification, most notably to the primary purpose of achieving the return of children where their removal or retention has led to the breach of actually exercised rights of custody, is given in the Preamble.

Therein it is recorded that:

"the interests of children are of paramount importance in matters relating to their custody;

and that States signatory desire:

 to protect children internationally from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal or retention;

 to establish procedures to ensure their prompt return to the State of their habitual residence; and

 to secure protection for rights of access."

The aim of return and the manner in which it should best be achieved is equally reinforced in subsequent Articles, notably in the duties required of Central Authorities (Arts 8-10) and in the requirement for judicial authorities to act expeditiously (Art. 11).

Article 13, along with Articles 12(2) and 20, which contain the exceptions to the summary return mechanism, indicate that the Convention embodies an additional aim, namely that in certain defined circumstances regard may be paid to the specific situation, including the best interests, of the individual child or even taking parent.

The Pérez-Vera Explanatory Report draws (at para. 19) attention to an implicit aim on which the Convention rests, namely that any debate on the merits of custody rights should take place before the competent authorities in the State where the child had his habitual residence prior to its removal, see for example:

W., E. M. c. O., M. G., Supreme Court, June 14, 1995 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AR 362]
Supreme Court of Finland: KKO:2004:76 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FI 839]

CA Bordeaux, 19 janvier 2007, No de RG 06/002739 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FR 947]

T. v. M., 15 April 1992, transcript (Unofficial Translation), Supreme Court of Israel [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/IL 214]

X. (the mother) v. De directie Preventie, en namens Y. (the father) (14 April 2000, ELRO nr. AA 5524, Zaaksnr.R99/076HR) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/NL 316]

5A.582/2007 Bundesgericht, II. Zivilabteilung, 4 décembre 2007 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 986]

United Kingdom - Scotland
N.J.C. v. N.P.C. [2008] CSIH 34, 2008 S.C. 571 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKs 996]

United States of America
Lops v. Lops, 140 F.3d 927 (11th Cir. 1998) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 125]
The Pérez-Vera Report equally articulates the preventive dimension to the instrument's return aim (at paras. 17, 18, 25), a goal which was specifically highlighted during the ratification process of the Convention in the United States (see: Pub. Notice 957, 51 Fed. Reg. 10494, 10505 (1986)) and which has subsequently been relied upon in that Contracting State when applying the Convention, see:

Duarte v. Bardales, 526 F.3d 563 (9th Cir. 2008) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 741]

Applying the principle of equitable tolling where an abducted child had been concealed was held to be consistent with the purpose of the Convention to deter child abduction.

Furnes v. Reeves, 362 F.3d 702 (11th Cir. 2004) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 578]

In contrast to other federal Courts of Appeals, the 11th Circuit was prepared to interpret a ne exeat right as including the right to determine a child's place of residence since the goal of the Hague Convention was to deter international abduction and the ne exeat right provided a parent with decision-making authority regarding the child's international relocation.

In other jurisdictions, deterrence has on occasion been raised as a relevant factor in the interpretation and application of the Convention, see for example:

J.E.A. v. C.L.M. (2002), 220 D.L.R. (4th) 577 (N.S.C.A.) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 754]

United Kingdom - England and Wales
Re A.Z. (A Minor) (Abduction: Acquiescence) [1993] 1 FLR 682 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 50]

Aims and objectives may equally rise to prominence during the life of the instrument, such as the promotion of transfrontier contact, which it has been submitted will arise by virtue of a strict application of the Convention's summary return mechanism, see:

New Zealand
S. v. S. [1999] NZFLR 625 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/NZ 296]

United Kingdom - England and Wales
Re R. (Child Abduction: Acquiescence) [1995] 1 FLR 716 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 60]

There is no hierarchy between the different aims of the Convention (Pérez-Vera Explanatory Report, at para. 18).  Judicial interpretation may therefore differ as between Contracting States as more or less emphasis is placed on particular objectives.  Equally jurisprudence may evolve, whether internally or internationally.

In United Kingdom case law (England and Wales) a decision of that jurisdiction's then supreme jurisdiction, the House of Lords, led to a reappraisal of the Convention's aims and consequently a re-alignment in court practice as regards the exceptions:

Re M. (Children) (Abduction: Rights of Custody) [2007] UKHL 55, [2008] 1 AC 1288 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 937]

Previously a desire to give effect to the primary goal of promoting return and thereby preventing an over-exploitation of the exceptions, had led to an additional test of exceptionality being added to the exceptions, see for example:

Re M. (A Child) (Abduction: Child's Objections to Return) [2007] EWCA Civ 260 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 901]

It was this test of exceptionality which was subsequently held to be unwarranted by the House of Lords in Re M. (Children) (Abduction: Rights of Custody) [2007] UKHL 55, [2008] 1 AC 1288 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 937]

- Fugitive Disentitlement Doctrine:

In United States Convention case law different approaches have been taken in respect of applicants who have or are alleged to have themselves breached court orders under the "fugitive disentitlement doctrine".

In Re Prevot, 59 F.3d 556 (6th Cir. 1995) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 150], the fugitive disentitlement doctrine was applied, the applicant father in the Convention application having left the United States to escape his criminal conviction and other responsibilities to the United States courts.

Walsh v. Walsh, No. 99-1747 (1st Cir. July 25, 2000) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 326]

In the instant case the father was a fugitive. Secondly, it was arguable there was some connection between his fugitive status and the petition. But the court found that the connection not to be strong enough to support the application of the doctrine. In any event, the court also held that applying the fugitive disentitlement doctrine would impose too severe a sanction in a case involving parental rights.

In March v. Levine, 249 F.3d 462 (6th Cir. 2001) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 386], the doctrine was not applied where the applicant was in breach of civil orders.

In the Canadian case Kovacs v. Kovacs (2002), 59 O.R. (3d) 671 (Sup. Ct.) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 760], the father's fugitive status was held to be a factor in there being a grave risk of harm facing the child.

Author: Peter McEleavy


There has been general acceptance that where the exception of acquiescence is concerned regard must be paid in the first instance to the subjective intentions of the left behind parent, see:

Commissioner, Western Australia Police v. Dormann, JP (1997) FLC 92-766 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 213];

Barry Eldon Matthews (Commissioner, Western Australia Police Service) v. Ziba Sabaghian PT 1767 of 2001 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 345];

5Ob17/08y, Oberster Gerichtshof, (Austrian Supreme Court) 1/4/2008 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AT 981].

Considering the issue for the first time, Austria's supreme court held that acquiescence in a temporary state of affairs would not suffice for the purposes of Article 13(1) a), rather there had to be acquiescence in a durable change in habitual residence.

N° de rôle: 02/7742/A, Tribunal de première instance de Bruxelles 6/3/2003, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/BE 545];

Ibrahim v. Girgis, 2008 ONCA 23, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/CA 851];

United Kingdom - England & Wales
Re H. and Others (Minors) (Abduction: Acquiescence) [1998] AC 72 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 46];

In this case the House of Lords affirmed that acquiescence was not to be found in passing remarks or letters written by a parent who has recently suffered the trauma of the removal of his children.

K. v. K., 6 May 1998, transcript, Supreme Court of Ireland [INCADAT cite: HC/E/IE 285];

Dagan v. Dagan 53 P.D (3) 254 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/IL 807];

New Zealand
P. v. P., 13 March 2002, Family Court at Greymouth (New Zealand), [INCADAT cite: HC/E/NZ 533];

United Kingdom - Scotland
M.M. v. A.M.R. or M. 2003 SCLR 71, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKs 500];

South Africa
Smith v. Smith 2001 (3) SA 845 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/ZA 499];

5P.367/2005 /ast, Bundesgericht, II. Zivilabteilung (Tribunal Fédéral, 2ème Chambre Civile), [INCADAT cite: HC/E/CH 841].

In keeping with this approach there has also been a reluctance to find acquiescence where the applicant parent has sought initially to secure the voluntary return of the child or a reconciliation with the abducting parent, see:

United Kingdom - England & Wales
Re H. and Others (Minors) (Abduction: Acquiescence) [1998] AC 72 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 46];

P. v. P. (Abduction: Acquiescence) [1998] 2 FLR 835, [INCADAT cite:  HC/E/UKe 179];

R.K. v. J.K. (Child Abduction: Acquiescence) [2000] 2 IR 416, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/IE 285];

United States of America
Wanninger v. Wanninger, 850 F. Supp. 78 (D. Mass. 1994), [INCADAT cite: HC/E/USf 84];

In the Australian case Townsend & Director-General, Department of Families, Youth and Community (1999) 24 Fam LR 495, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 290] negotiation over the course of 12 months was taken to amount to acquiescence but, notably, in the court's exercise of its discretion it decided to make a return order.

Equitable Tolling

In accordance with this principle the one year time limit in Article 12 is only deemed to commence from the date of the discovery of the children. The rationale being that otherwise an abducting parent who concealed children for more than a year would be rewarded for their misconduct by creating eligibility for an affirmative defence which was not otherwise available.

Furnes v. Reeves, 362 F.3d 702 (11th Cir. 2004) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USf 578].

The principle of 'equitable tolling' in the context of the time limit specified in Article 12 has been rejected in other jurisdictions, see:

United Kingdom - England & Wales
Cannon v. Cannon [2004] EWCA CIV 1330, [2005] 1 FLR 169 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 598];

China - (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region)
A.C. v. P.C. [2004] HKMP 1238 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/HK 825];

New Zealand
H.J. v. Secretary for Justice [2006] NZFLR 1005 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/NZ 1127].


Preparation of INCADAT case law analysis in progress.

Oral Evidence

To ensure that Convention cases are dealt with expeditiously, as is required by the Convention, courts in a number of jurisdictions have restricted the use of oral evidence, see:

Gazi v. Gazi (1993) FLC 92-341, 16 Fam LR 18; [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 277]

It should be noted however that more recently Australia's supreme jurisdiction, the High Court, has cautioned against the ‘inadequate, albeit prompt, disposition of return applications', rather a ‘thorough examination on adequate evidence of the issues' was required, see:

M.W. v. Director-General, Department of Community Services [2008] HCA 12, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 988].

Katsigiannis v. Kottick-Katsigianni (2001), 55 O.R. (3d) 456 (C.A.); [INCADAT cite: HC/E/CA 758].

The Court of Appeal for Ontario held that if credibility was a serious issue, courts should consider hearing viva voce evidence of witnesses whose credibility is in issue.

China - Hong Kong
S. v. S. [1998] 2 HKC 316; [INCADAT cite: HC/E/HK 234];

United Kingdom - England & Wales
Re F. (A Minor) (Child Abduction) [1992] 1 FLR 548; [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 40];

Re W. (Abduction: Procedure) [1995] 1 FLR 878; [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 37].

In the above case it was accepted that a situation where oral evidence should be allowed was where the affidavit evidence was in direct conflict.

Re W. (Abduction: Domestic Violence) [2004] EWCA Civ 1366, [2005] 1 FLR 727; [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 771]

In the above case the Court of Appeal ruled that a trial judge could consider of his own motion to allow oral evidence where he conceived that oral evidence might be determinative of the case.

However, to warrant oral exploration of written evidence as to the existence of a grave risk of harm which was only embryonic on the written material, a judge must be satisfied that there was a realistic possibility that oral evidence would establish an Article 13(1) b) case.

Re F. (Abduction: Child's Wishes) [2007] EWCA Civ 468, [2007] 2 FLR 697; [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 906]

Here the Court of Appeal affirmed that where the exception of acquiescence was alleged oral evidence was more commonly allowed because of the necessity to ascertain the applicant's subjective state of mind, as well as his communications in response to knowledge of the removal or retention.

Supreme Court of Finland: KKO:2004:76; [INCADAT cite: HC/E/FI 839].

In the Matter of M. N. (A Child) [2008] IEHC 382; [INCADAT cite: HC/E/IE 992].

The trial judge noted that applications were heard on affidavit evidence only, except where the Court, in exceptional circumstances, directed or permitted oral evidence.

New Zealand
Secretary for Justice v. Abrahams, ex parte Brown; [INCADAT cite: HC/E/NZ 492];

Hall v. Hibbs [1995] NZFLR 762; [INCADAT cite: HC/E/NZ 248];

South Africa
Pennello v. Pennello [2003] 1 All SA 716; [INCADAT cite: HC/E/ZA 497];

Central Authority v. H. 2008 (1) SA 49 (SCA); [INCADAT cite: HC/E/ZA 900].

In the above case the Supreme Court of Appeal noted that even where the parties had not requested that oral evidence be admitted, it might be required where a finding on the issue of consent could not otherwise be reached.

United States of America
Ferraris v. Alexander, 125 Cal. App. 4th 1417 (Cal. App. 3d. Dist., 2005); [INCADAT cite: HC/E/USs 797]

The father argued that the trial court denied him a fair hearing because it determined disputed issues of fact without hearing oral evidence from the parties.

The Court of Appeal rejected this submission noting that nothing in the Hague Convention entitled the father to an evidentiary hearing with sworn witness testimony. Moreover, it noted that under California law declarations could be used in place of witness testimony in various situations.

The Court further ruled that the father could not question the propriety of the procedure used with regard to evidence on appeal because he did not object to the use of affidavits in evidence at trial.

For a consideration of the use of oral evidence in Convention proceedings see: Beaumont P.R. and McEleavy P.E. 'The Hague Convention on International Child Abduction' OUP, Oxford, 1999 at p. 257 et seq.

Under the rules applicable within the European Union for intra-EU abductions (Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003 (Brussels II a)) Convention applications are now subject to additional provisions, including the requirement that an applicant be heard before a non-return order is made [Article 11(5) Brussels II a Regulation], and, that the child be heard ‘during the proceedings unless this appears inappropriate having regard to his or her age or degree of maturity' [Article 11(2) Brussels II a Regulation].


Preparation of INCADAT commentary in progress.