High Court Orders Summary Return of Abducted Child to Lithuania Under Hague Convention Following Grave Risk Claims Rejection

Citation: [2024] EWHC 64 (Fam)
Judgment on

Introduction

The case of Re. XZR (Abduction: Hague Convention (Lithuania)) is a significant decision in the realm of international family law involving child abduction and the Hague Convention. The judgment delivered by Paul Bowen KC (sitting as a Deputy Judge of the High Court) on 17 January 2024, details the application of legal principles surrounding the wrongful removal of a child from their country of habitual residence and the defenses to a summary return order under the 1980 Hague Convention.

Key Facts

The case involves the unlawful abduction of a child, XZR, by the father (‘F’), from Lithuania to the United Kingdom. The mother (‘M’) sought XZR’s return to Lithuania under the 1980 Hague Convention. The Lithuanian court had previously restricted F’s contact with XZR due to F’s violent behavior towards M and the child. F abducted XZR during agreed contact in Lithuania and brought him to the UK without M’s consent. F argued there was a grave risk that XZR’s return would harm him; however, his defense also included the quality of Lithuanian education and the assertion that XZR’s British citizenship identity would be harmed in Lithuania.

The judgment reiterates several established principles under the 1980 Hague Convention:

  1. Prompt Return and Summary Procedure: The Convention’s aim is to ensure the child’s swift return to their country of habitual residence to address custody rights therein.

  2. Article 13(b) Grave Risk of Harm: This provision serves as a defense to the child’s return if it can be established with grave risk of substantial harm or intolerable situation upon return. This principle was applied by evaluating F’s claims against the seriousness required by Article 13(b).

  3. Assumption of Risk and Protective Measures: When assessing the ‘grave risk’, the court should assume the allegations to be true if they cannot be discounted confidently, as demonstrated in Uhd v Mckay. Protective measures are then considered if the risk threshold is met.

  4. Discretion Even When Defenses Succeed: If a defense under Article 13(b) was established, the court would retain discretion whether to return the child, as stated in Re. M (Abduction: Zimbabwe).

  5. Analysis of Evidence: Contemporaneous documents and tested witness testimony hold weight, as prescribed by Lord Hoffman in Re. B (Children) (Sexual Abuse - Standard of Proof).

  6. Enforcement of Foreign Orders: Giving effect to Lithuanian Court orders was found essential unless exceptional circumstances justified otherwise under Article 23 of the 1996 Hague Convention or Article 20 of the 1980 Hague Convention.

  7. Contempt of Court: The case also dealt with contempt of court, where F’s defiance and threats to not comply with court orders were addressed.

Outcomes

The judge ruled that F did not establish a grave risk of harm to XZR if returned. The father’s defense was rejected, and the court ordered XZR’s summary return to Lithuania. F’s threats of non-compliance resulted in his arrest and remand in custody, with forthcoming proceedings to address the contempt of court.

Conclusion

Re. XZR (Abduction: Hague Convention (Lithuania)) reinforces the imperative of the Hague Convention for the quick resolution of international child abduction cases and the high threshold for defenses against a child’s summary return. This case underlines that wrongful actions and threats to disobey court orders can lead to serious consequences, including contempt of court. The judgment serves as a pertinent reminder that the interests of the child are paramount and the court possesses broad discretion in ensuring their welfare and adherence to international treaties.

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