Saint Petersburg City Court
Madbakeena B.A., Bashkina L.Y., Malshko N.B.
21 December 2016
Grave Risk - Art. 13(1)(b)
Appeal dismissed, return refused
Principle 6, UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child; Art. 3(2), UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; Arts 63, 65, Family Code of the Russian Federation; Art. 38, Constitution of the Russian Federation.
1 child wrongfully removed at age 2 - National of the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation - Married parents - Father national of United Kingdom - Mother national of Russia - Both parents had rights of custody - Child lived in Spain with both parents until April 2016 - Application for return filed with the Dzerzhinskiy District Court of St Petersburg on 18 August 2016 - Return refused - Main issue: Art. 13(1)(b) grave risk exception to return - A child aged 3 has a physchological and physiological need for her mother and since the mother had decided to stay in Russia, return to Spain would expose the child to a grave risk of harm
This case forms the subject of an application to the European Court of Human Rights (Thompson v. Russia, Application no. 36048/17), lodged on 15 May 2017 and communicated on 23 October 2017.
Un enfant déplacé illicitement à l’âge de 2 ans – Ressortissant du Royaume-Uni et de la Fédération de Russie – parents mariés – Père ressortissant du Royaume-Uni – Mère ressortissante de Russie – Deux parents titulaires du droit de garde – Enfant résident en Espagne avec ses deux parents jusqu’en avril 2016 – Demande de retour déposée auprès du tribunal de district Dzerzhinskiy de St Pétersbourg le 18 août 2016 – Retour refusé – Principal enjeu : exception de risque grave visée à l’art. 13(1)(b) – Un enfant de trois ans a psychologiquement et physiologiquement besoin de sa mère et, considérant que la mère a décidé de rester en Russie, le retour en Espagne l’exposerait à un risque grave.
Cette affaire fait l’objet d’un requête auprès de la Cour européenne des droits de l’homme (Thompson c. Russie, Requête no 36048/17), introduite le 15 mai 2017 et communiquée le 23 octobre 2017.
The parents are a British father and a Russian mother who were married and who lived and worked in Spain since 2009. The child lived with her parents in Spain from birth (in July 2013) until her mother removed her to Russia in April 2016, without the father's knowledge or consent. The 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention entered into force between Spain and Russia on 1 March 2013. The father applied to the Russian courts for return of the child on 18 August 2016.
On 27 October 2016, the Dzerzhinsky District Court of Saint Petersburg dismissed the father's application on the basis that return would expose the child to a grave risk of harm within the meaning of Art. 13(1)(b) because a child of the age of three needs to be cared for by her mother. The Court relied on Principle 6 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child of 20 November 1959, which states that "a child of tender years" should not be separated from her mother other than in exceptional circumstances, and on the fact that the mother did not intend to return to Spain.
The father appealed this decision, arguing that the Court had applied Art. 13(1)(b) incorrectly and in a way which was was inconsistent with the objectives of the Convention and with the case law of other Contracting States and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The father also pointed out that the Court had ignored his undertakings to provide separate accomodation and support for the mother and the child in Spain, which he argued made it possible for her to return with the child.
Appeal dismissed and return refused. The first instance court had applied the law correctly.
The Court upheld the ruling of the District Court relying on Principle 6 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child of 20 November 1959, which states that "a child of tender years" should not be separated from her mother other than in exceptional circumstances, and on the fact that the mother did not intend to return to Spain. The Court added that since the minor was now settled in the Russian Federation, her retention there was not unlawful. Furthermore, the Court referred to Art. 65 of the Family Code of the Russian Federation, which requires that parents exercise their rights in a way which is consistent with the best interests of the child. In its written decision, no reference was made to the foreign case law presented by the father, but during the hearing, one of the judges commented that the arguments based on the case law of the ECtHR were not relevant because the Russian Federation does not have a precedent-based legal system.
Author: Prof. Rhona Schuz
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)