Preventing Child Abduction: Legal Principles and Protective Measures in Z v V & Anor Case

Citation: [2024] EWHC 365 (Fam)
Judgment on

Introduction

The case of Z v V & Anor: EWHC-Family [2024] EWHC 365 (Fam) presents a detailed examination of various legal principles and protective measures related to the prevention of child abduction within the family context. This analysis focuses on the inherent jurisdiction of the courts, wardship, port alerts, Prohibited Steps Orders (PSO), Specific Issue Orders (SIO), and the application of s91(14) restrictions.

Key Facts

The central concern in this case was the risk of a Father (“F”) abducting his two youngest children to Nigeria, following a history of domestic abuse and a prior instance of abduction. The Mother (“M”) sought a variety of orders to prevent re-abduction, including the continuation of wardship and various PSOs. The Father did not attend the hearing, though he was aware of it. The case facts were largely set by a prior fact-finding hearing which determined F’s behavior to be highly detrimental to the children.

The judgment navigates through multiple legal principles to establish the protective orders best suited for the children’s welfare.

Inherent Jurisdiction and Wardship

The court’s inherent jurisdiction, as rooted in parens patriae doctrine, allows the court to protect those who cannot protect themselves. Wardship, which places custody of the child effectively in the court’s hands, is a tool within this jurisdiction. However, the case demonstrates restraint in the use of wardship (citing cases such as Re A [2020] and A City Council v LS [2019]), suggesting it should not cut across statutory powers and should be deemed unnecessary if other protective measures are in place.

Port Alerts

The permitted use of port alerts as ancillary to substantive relief against child abduction was explored, with reference to Re K [2020] and Re P [2020], which emphasize such measures should be interim and proportional, relating to an imminent risk to the child.

Prohibited Steps Orders and Specific Issue Orders

The judgment describes PSOs as restrictions on steps parents might take pertaining to their child without the court’s consent under s8(1) of the Children Act 1989 and refers to D v E and another [2021] to demonstrate their utility in safeguarding children’s welfare.

Section 91(14) Restrictions

The application of s91(14) restricting F from bringing proceedings in respect of the children without the court’s leave was justified, aiming to spare the children from potentially harmful litigation and deriving principles from Re P [2000] and Re A [2021].

Outcomes

The court made numerous determinations based on the legal principles mentioned:

  1. The continuation of wardship was deemed unnecessary and disproportionate, hence discharged.
  2. PSOs were imposed against F to restrict his movements and involvement with the children’s schooling and care.
  3. A free-standing port alert for 18 months was instituted instead of Tipstaff Orders, to be renewed if justified.
  4. SIOs were granted for M to hold the children’s passports and not inform F of changes in home address for 12 months.
  5. A s91(14) order was placed for 18 months to protect the children from the risks of further litigation.

Conclusion

In Z v V & Anor, Mr. Justice Peel applied a meticulous analysis of the inherent jurisdiction and legislative safeguards to craft a framework of orders designed to prevent child abduction without overly intruding into the freedoms of the children involved. This cautious approach, relinquishing wardship while endorsing PSOs, SIOs, and a s91(14) order, respects the balance between proactive child protection and due consideration of individual liberties. The decision sets a clear example of judicial circumspection and adherence to the principle of proportionality in crafting court orders sensitive to the needs of children and the dynamics of family law.

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