Superior Appellate Court
8 April 2008
Grave Risk - Art. 13(1)(b)
Justice Procaccia, giving the leading judgment, reiterated the need to interpret the exceptions in the Convention very narrowly so as not to undermine the objective of rooting out the evil of international child abduction and of not giving a reward to abducting parents.
The grave risk exception should only be invoked in circumstances which were exceptional in terms of the intolerability of the situation and the severity of the risk, which would be created by return. Whilst it was clear in this case that the transition to life in Belgium and the restoration of contact with the father would be difficult for the child, these did not constitute a reason not to fulfill the requirements and objectives of the Convention.
Justice Procaccia emphasized that the source of the harm which would be caused to the child was in the original abduction itself. She went further and suggested that even if the exception were established, the court might still exercise its discretion in favour of ordering return.
Whilst the other two judges agreed with Justice Procaccia that the exceptions did not apply, they did not agree with her decision that the child should be returned within 21 days. Justice Arbel took the view that in the light of the fact that the child had become settled in Israel, the lack of contact with his father for the past two years and huge disparity between the lifestyle of his two parents, he needed a period of time to adjust to and be prepared for the return.
She would have ordered a return two weeks after the end of the school year (i.e. 15 July 2008). Justice Jubran suggested a compromise, under which the child would be returned by 1 June 2008 (seven and a half weeks after the date of the decision) and this was accepted.
The Supreme Court adopted the conditions set out by the Family Court, adding the need for an assurance by the French authorities that the criminal proceedings against the mother there would be discontinued and ordering the social services to prepare the child for return and arrange meetings between him and the father.
Justice Procaccia took the opportunity to criticize the way in which the case had been handled by the legal system (there had been two decisions by the Family Court, three in the District Court and three in the Supreme Court). The resulting passage of time (even though each decision had been made without delay) had frustrated the objective of immediate return and had made return harder for the child.
It was necessary to find a way which would ensure that all the issues were examined fully within a reasonable timeframe. One possibility was to concentrate full clarification of all the issues in one hearing and, if necessary, to fill in any gaps at appellate level.
Author of the summary: Prof. Rhona Schuz, Israel
The first meeting between the father and child took place on 15 May 2008. On 21 May 2008, the Supreme Court, on the application of the mother, ordered that the return be delayed until 15 June 2008 in order to enable further preparation.
On 10 June 2008, the Family Court examined the documents which had been submitted by the father and held that, since there was no satisfactory assurance from the prosecution authorities in France, the mother could not be required to return the child to Belgium until such a document was received.
On 29 June 2009, the father applied to the Supreme Court ex parte requesting instructions. On 1 July 2009, the Supreme Court held that the conditions in the decision were not intended to delay the return date beyond that which had been fixed by the court and so the child should be returned immediately.
On 2 July 2009, the mother's lawyers received a fax from the father's lawyers attaching a copy of this order and informing them that the father had booked a ticket for the child on the flight to Belgium the following day and that if the mother wished to accompany the child she should book her own ticket.
The mother applied to the High Court of Justice for judicial review against the Supreme Court's decision, but this was dismissed. However, the child did not turn up at the airport and has not been seen since. The mother was arrested and charged with contempt of court and child abduction. The trial is still continuing.
Subsequently, the father obtained an ex parte search order (Anton Piller order) to search for and take mobile phones and computers from the mother to assist in locating the child. After the order was executed, the mother mounted a legal challenge claiming this breached her human rights.
This was rejected by the District Court which held that the Family Court had very wide powers to make orders which might assist in locating an abducted minor for the purpose of instituting proceedings or enforcing a decision under the Hague Child Abduction Convention and that the mother's rights were overridden by those of the child and the father.
As of January 2013, the child had still not been found. In March 2011, the mother was acquitted of abducting the child (punishable by up to 20 years in prison), but found guilty of the relatively minor offence of disobeying a court order and given a prison sentence of a year.
The State appealed against the acquittal and the mother appealed against the sentence. Execution of the sentence was suspended. The appeal has been adjourned on several occasions and is now scheduled to be heard in March 2013.
Additionally, the father brought proceedings against the mother for contempt of court. The mother was ordered to pay a daily fine until she produced the child. Non-payment of the fine subsequently led to her receiving a one month prison sentence in January 2012.
In a certain number of cases the reaction of children to a proposed return to the State of habitual residence goes beyond a mere objection and may manifest itself in physical opposition to being sent back or the threat of suicide. There have also been examples of an abducting parent threatening to commit suicide if forced to return to the child's State of habitual residence.
There are several examples of cases where the views of the children concerned were not gathered or were initially not acted upon and this resulted in the children taking steps to prevent the return order being enforced; in each case the return order was subsequently overturned or dismissed, see:
United Kingdom - England & Wales
Re M. (A Minor) (Child Abduction)  1 FLR 390 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 56];
The children attempted to open the door of the aircraft taking them back to Australia as it taxied for take off at London's Heathrow airport.
Re H.B. (Abduction: Children's Objections)  1 FLR 422 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 167];
The younger of two siblings, a girl aged 12, refused to board a plane to take her back to Denmark. Ironically, the older brother had only been made subject to the return order to ensure the siblings would not be separated.
Re B. (Children) (Abduction: New Evidence)  2 FCR 531 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 420];
The children attacked the court officers sent to take them to Heathrow airport for their flight back to New Zealand.
Re F. (Hague Convention: Child's Objections)  FamCA 685, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 864];
An 11 year old boy resisted attempts to place him on a plane to the United States of America.
Threat of Suicide
Where it is alleged at trial that the child or abducting parent will commit suicide if forced to return, it is for the court seized to decide on the veracity of the claim in the light of the available evidence and the circumstances of the case.
The issue of course may not always be raised, as happened in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region case S. v. S.  2 HKC 316, [INCADAT cite: HC/E/HK 234] where after a return order was made the mother killed her child and then committed suicide.
Threat of Suicide - Child
Evidence that the child concerned had threatened to commit suicide was central to a non-return order being made in the following cases:
United Kingdom - England & Wales
Re R. (A Minor Abduction)  1 FLR 105 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 59].
Evidence that a child had previously made a suicide attempt in the State of habitual residence was not accepted as justifying a non-return order in:
Family Appeal 1169/99 R. v. L. [INCADAT cite: HC/E/IL 834].
A submission that a child would commit suicide was not accepted as justifying a non-return order in:
Threat of Suicide - Abducting parent
Evidence that the abducting parent may commit suicide if forced to return to the child's State of habitual residence has been upheld as creating a situation where the child concerned would be at a grave risk of harm and should not therefore be sent back, see:
J.L.M. v. Director-General NSW Department of Community Services  HCA 39 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 347];
Director-General, Department of Families v. RSP  FamCA 623 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/AU 544].
Secretary for Justice v. C., ex parte H., 28/04/2000, transcript, District Court at Otahuhu [INCADAT cite: HC/E/NZ 534].
The latter meeting, during which the child's counsel was present, terminated when the boy became unwell and vomited as a result of the judge mentioning the possibility of a return to Australia.
The issue of how to respond when a taking parent who is a primary carer threatens not to accompany a child back to the State of habitual residence if a return order is made, is a controversial one.
There are examples from many Contracting States where courts have taken a very strict approach so that, other than in exceptional situations, the Article 13(1)(b) exception has not been upheld where the non-return argument has been raised, see:
4Ob1523/96, Oberster Gerichtshof [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AT 561]
M.G. v. R.F., 2002 R.J.Q. 2132 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 762]
N.P. v. A.B.P., 1999 R.D.F. 38 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CA 764]
In this case, a non-return order was made since the facts were exceptional. There had been a genuine threat to the mother, which had put her quite obviously and rightfully in fear for her safety if she returned to Israel. The mother was taken to Israel on false pretences, sold to the Russian Mafia and re-sold to the father who forced her into prostitution. She was locked in, beaten by the father, raped and threatened. The mother was genuinely in a state of fear and could not be expected to return to Israel. It would be wholly inappropriate to send the child back without his mother to a father who had been buying and selling women and running a prostitution business.
United Kingdom - England and Wales
C. v. C. (Minor: Abduction: Rights of Custody Abroad)  1 WLR 654 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 34]
Re C. (Abduction: Grave Risk of Psychological Harm)  1 FLR 1145 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 269]
However, in a more recent English Court of Appeal judgment, the C. v. C. approach has been refined:
Re S. (A Child) (Abduction: Grave Risk of Harm)  3 FCR 43,  EWCA Civ 908 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 469]
In this case, it was ruled that a mother's refusal to return was capable of amounting to a defence because the refusal was not an act of unreasonableness, but came about as a result of an illness she was suffering from. It may be noted, however, that a return order was nevertheless still made. In this context reference may also be made to the decisions of the United Kingdom Supreme Court in Re E. (Children) (Abduction: Custody Appeal)  UKSC 27,  1 A.C. 144 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 1068] and Re S. (A Child) (Abduction: Rights of Custody)  UKSC 10,  2 A.C. 257 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKe 1147], in which it was accepted that the anxieties of a respondent mother about return, which were not based upon objective risk to her but nevertheless were of such intensity as to be likely, in the event of a return, to destabilise her parenting of the child to the point at which the child's situation would become intolerable, could in principle meet the threshold of the Article 13(1)(b) exception.
Oberlandesgericht Dresden, 10 UF 753/01, 21 January 2002 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/DE 486]
Oberlandesgericht Köln, 21 UF 70/01, 12 April 2001 [INCADAT: HC/E/DE 491]
Previously a much more liberal interpretation had been adopted:
Oberlandesgericht Stuttgart, 17 UF 260/98, 25 November 1998 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/DE 323]
5P_71/2003/min, II. Zivilabteilung, arrêt du TF du 27 mars 2003 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 788]
5P_65/2002/bnm, II. Zivilabteilung, arrêt du TF du 11 avril 2002 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 789]
5P_367/2005/ast, II. Zivilabteilung, arrêt du TF du 15 novembre 2005 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 841]
5A_285/2007/frs, IIe Cour de droit civil, arrêt du TF du 16 août 2007 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 955]
5A_479/2012, IIe Cour de droit civil, arrêt du TF du 13 juillet 2012 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/CH 1179]
K.S. v. L.S.  3 NZLR 837 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/NZ 770]
United Kingdom - Scotland
McCarthy v. McCarthy  SLT 743 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UKs 26]
United States of America
Panazatou v. Pantazatos, No. FA 96071351S (Conn. Super. Ct., 1997) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/USs 97]
In other Contracting States, the approach taken with regard to non-return arguments has varied:
In Australia, early Convention case law exhibited a very strict approach adopted with regard to non-return arguments, see:
Director-General Department of Families, Youth and Community Care and Hobbs, 24 September 1999, Family Court of Australia (Brisbane) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AU 294]
Director General of the Department of Family and Community Services v. Davis (1990) FLC 92-182 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AU 293]
In State Central Authority v. Ardito, 20 October 1997 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/AU 283], the Family Court of Australia at Melbourne did find the grave risk of harm exception to be established where the mother would not return, but in this case the mother had been denied entry into the United States of America, the child's State of habitual residence.
Following the judgment of the High Court of Australia (the highest court in the Australian judicial system) in the joint appeals DP v. Commonwealth Central Authority; J.L.M. v. Director-General, NSW Department of Community Services  HCA 39, (2001) 180 ALR 402 [INCADAT Reference HC/E/AU 346, 347], greater attention has been focused on the post-return situation facing abducted children.
In the context of a primary-carer taking parent refusing to return to the child's State of habitual residence see: Director General, Department of Families v. RSP.  FamCA 623 [INCADAT Reference HC/E/AU 544].
In French case law, a permissive approach to Article 13(1)(b) has been replaced with a much more restrictive interpretation. For examples of the initial approach, see:
Cass. Civ 1ère 12. 7. 1994, S. c. S.. See Rev. Crit. 84 (1995), p. 96 note H. Muir Watt; JCP 1996 IV 64 note Bosse-Platière, Defrénois 1995, art. 36024, note J. Massip [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FR 103]
Cass. Civ 1ère, 22 juin 1999, No de RG 98-17902 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FR 498]
And for examples of the stricter interpretation, see:
Cass Civ 1ère, 25 janvier 2005, No de RG 02-17411 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/FR 708]
CA Agen, 1 décembre 2011, No de RG 11/01437 [INCADAT Reference HC/E/FR 1172]
In Israeli case law there are contrasting examples of the judicial response to non-return arguments:
Civil Appeal 4391/96 Ro v. Ro [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/IL 832]
in contrast with:
Family Appeal 621/04 D.Y v. D.R [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/IL 833]
Decision of the Supreme Court, 7 October 1998, I CKN 745/98 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/PL 700]
The Supreme Court noted that it would not be in the child's best interests if she were deprived of her mother's care, were the latter to choose to remain in Poland. However, it equally affirmed that if the child were to stay in Poland it would not be in her interests to be deprived of the care of her father. For these reasons, the Court concluded that it could not be assumed that ordering the return of the child would place her in an intolerable situation.
Decision of the Supreme Court, 1 December 1999, I CKN 992/99 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/PL 701]
The Supreme Court specified that the frequently used argument of the child's potential separation from the taking parent, did not, in principle, justify the application of the exception. It held that where there were no objective obstacles to the return of a taking parent, then it could be assumed that the taking parent considered his own interest to be more important than those of the child.
The Court added that a taking parent's fear of being held criminally liable was not an objective obstacle to return, as the taking parent should have been aware of the consequences of his actions. The situation with regard to infants was however more complicated. The Court held that the special bond between mother and baby only made their separation possible in exceptional cases, and this was so even if there were no objective obstacles to the mother's return to the State of habitual residence. The Court held that where the mother of an infant refused to return, whatever the reason, then the return order should be refused on the basis of Article 13(1)(b). On the facts, return was ordered.
Solicitud conforme al Convenio de La Haya sobre los Aspectos Civiles de la Sustracción Internacional de Menores - Casación, IUE 9999-68/2010 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/UY 1185]
European Court of Human Rights (ECrtHR)
There are decisions of the ECrtHR which have endorsed a strict approach with regard to the compatibility of Hague Convention exceptions and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Some of these cases have considered arguments relevant to the issue of grave risk of harm, including where an abductor has indicated an unwillingness to accompany the returning child, see:
Ilker Ensar Uyanık c. Turquie (Application No 60328/09) [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1169]
In this case, the ECrtHR upheld a challenge by the left-behind father that the refusal of the Turkish courts to return his child led to a breach of Article 8 of the ECHR. The ECrtHR stated that whilst very young age was a criterion to be taken into account to determine the child's interest in an abduction case, it could not be considered by itself a sufficient ground, in relation to the requirements of the Hague Convention, to justify dismissal of a return application.
Recourse has been had to expert evidence to assist in ascertaining the potential consequences of the child being separated from the taking parent
Maumousseau and Washington v. France (Application No 39388/05) of 6 December 2007 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 942]
Lipowsky and McCormack v. Germany (Application No 26755/10) of 18 January 2011 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1201]
MR and LR v. Estonia (Application No 13420/12) of 15 May 2012 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1177]
However, it must equally be noted that since the Grand Chamber ruling in Neulinger and Shuruk v. Switzerland, there are examples of a less strict approach being followed. The latter ruling had emphasised the best interests of the individual abducted child in the context of an application for return and the ascertainment of whether the domestic courts had conducted an in-depth examination of the entire family situation as well as a balanced and reasonable assessment of the respective interests of each person, see:
Neulinger and Shuruk v. Switzerland (Application No 41615/07), Grand Chamber, of 6 July 2010 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1323]
X. v. Latvia (Application No 27853/09) of 13 December 2011 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1146]; and Grand Chamber ruling X. v. Latvia (Application No 27853/09), Grand Chamber [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1234]
B. v. Belgium (Application No 4320/11) of 10 July 2012 [INCADAT Reference: HC/E/ 1171]
In this case, a majority found that the return of a child to the United States of America would lead to a breach of Article 8 of the ECHR. The decision-making process of the Belgian Appellate Court as regards Article 13(1)(b) was held not to have met the procedural requirements inherent in Article 8 of the ECHR. The two dissenting judges noted, however, that the danger referred to in Article 13 should not consist only of the separation of the child from the taking parent.
(Author: Peter McEleavy, April 2013)