High Court Deliberates on Interim Return of Child with Disabilities in International Abduction Case

Citation: [2023] EWHC 3041 (Fam)
Judgment on


In the recent judgment of the High Court, Family Division, Deputy High Court Judge Mr David Lock KC deliberated on a crucial matter involving international child abduction, the welfare of a child with disabilities, and the interim return of the said child to their habitual residence.

Key Facts

The case revolved around the wrongful retention of a child (‘C’) by the mother (‘Ms B’) in the UK, after traveling from Ireland under the pretense of a holiday visit. The child is habitually resident in Ireland and has profound autism, requiring specialized support only available in Ireland. The parents are separated, and the father (‘Mr A’) applied under the Child Custody and Abduction Act 1985 (‘the 1985 Act’) for C’s return to Ireland. Due to the mother’s severe mental health crisis and her association with a registered sex offender, the local child protection authority intervened. The child was briefly placed under the father’s care in a hotel in Bristol, awaiting the court’s decision on an interim return order to Ireland.

The case entails the application of the following laws and conventions:

  • Child Custody and Abduction Act 1985
  • The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, 1980 (‘the 1980 Convention’)
  • The Hague Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement, and Cooperation in respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children, 1996 (‘the 1996 Convention’)
  • Children Act 1989

The main legal question was whether an interim return order could be made pending the final decision, allowing C to regain access to special care in Ireland.

Jurisdiction and Parental Rights

Under the 1996 Convention, the habitual residential state retains jurisdiction over the child, meaning Irish courts have primary responsibility for measures protecting C. Both parents maintain parental rights regardless of abduction circumstances and open legal proceedings.

Interim Orders

Section 5 of the 1985 Act empowers UK courts to issue interim directions as necessary to secure the welfare of the child or prevent changes in relevant circumstances before an application is determined. This includes potential interim return orders, despite the rare nature and possible implication of breaching the undertaking by the father not to commence proceedings in Ireland.

Child Welfare and Best Interests

The best interests of the child are paramount, as emphasized in the 1996 Convention and implicated by Article 7(b) of the 1980 Convention.


The court voiced concern over C’s welfare, highlighting the immediate need for specialized educational and psychological support, avenues for which were only available in Ireland. An exceedingly unusual step was taken by releasing the father from his undertaking not to return to Ireland with C (initially given to the court to prevent unilateral action) after rigorous welfare and legal analysis. The court viewed it as a necessary measure despite potential jurisdictional complications or implications upon the father’s return to Ireland.


The case demonstrates the delicate balancing act between protecting child welfare, preserving legal protocol, and respecting jurisdictional boundaries in international child abduction cases. Mr Lock KC outlined the importance of interpreting legislation in the child’s best interest, while also taking into account the 1980 and 1996 Conventions’ objectives. Furthermore, the judgment underscores the exceptional nature of granting interim measures that may effectively result in an irreversible situation, respecting the rights and duties of internationally separated parents under both UK and international law.