The world is a small place and wrongful removal of a child from one country to another is just a matter of packing bags and buying airline tickets. However, as one High Court case showed, the UK is a signatory to the international ban on child abduction and takes its responsibilities seriously.
The case concerned a pre-teenage girl who had been spirited away from her native Italy by her mother in flagrant disregard of her father’s parental rights. The girl was tracked down to a rural county and the father launched proceedings under the Hague Convention to enforce her return to her homeland.
In resisting the move, the mother argued that her daughter was settled and happy in England and had expressed a strong wish to remain here. They would face serious financial difficulties if forced to return to Italy and the mother would also be at risk of imprisonment there due to her unlawful abduction of the child.
In upholding the father’s application, however, the Court noted that there was no doubt that the girl was habitually resident in Italy at the time of her removal. Her affection for England was sincere and strong but, after meeting her in person, the judge found that her expression of wishes was not wholly authentic, having been coloured and influenced by her mother’s views.
The Court was satisfied that the mother’s motive had been to provide her daughter with a better quality of life in England and that an enforced return to Italy would be traumatic for both of them. However, prior to her abduction, an Italian court had granted joint custody of the child to both her parents and the mother had ridden roughshod over the father’s rights. The Court rejected arguments that returning the girl to Italy would expose her to a grave risk of harm.