25 September 2008
Risque grave - art. 13(1)(b)
The exceptions established by the Convention and the implementing Quebec statute must be interpreted narrowly. In light of the lack of credible evidence that the father would pose a danger to the child, the Court could not accept the submission that the return of the child would expose her to physical or psychological harm or place her in an intolerable situation in any other way.
Moreover, the Court found that the mother's application for refugee status did not affect the application of the Convention because the child in this case was an American citizen and had a right to live in the USA. The Court also noted that the fact that the departure from Canada could bring an automatic end to the mother's application for refugee status could not be relied upon for the purposes of Art. 13(1)(b) as it affected only the mother, not the child.
The Court stated that there was nothing in the evidence before it to suggest that the protection the mother and child might have in California would be less than the protection they might have in Canada.
Finally, the Court rejected the argument that returning the child would psychologically harm her due to the fact that the mother had been the only parental figure the child had known since leaving the USA: a parent could not unlawfully remove a child, hide and prevent anyone from finding him or her for a long time and then claim that the child would suffer psychologically as a result of being deprived of the presence of the abducting parent.
On occasion an abducting parent will apply in the State of refuge for political asylum or refugee status. Where this has occurred, the State of the child's habitual residence has not normally been a Contracting State to the 1980 Hague Convention. Nevertheless the court seised of the non-Convention return must decide how to weigh general child abduction policy considerations against the actual (or possible) award of refugee status or asylum.
The Matter of the Children's Law Reform Act: Between S. Del Carmen Miranda de Martinez v. G. Martinez-Jarquin (18 July 1990), transcript, Ontario Court; Provincial Division (Canada) [INCADAT cite: HC/E/CA 368].
A Salvadorian abducting parent and children were awarded refugee status by the Canadian Immigration Board. In subsequent abduction proceedings the Ontario Court; Provincial Division held that the findings of the Board should be given significant weight but added that the issue it had to decide was different. It ruled that any perceived conflict between the refugee and child abduction issues should be resolved in favour of the policy enunciated by Ontario and embodied in the Hague Convention. Return ordered.
Kovacs v. Kovacs (2002), 59 O.R. (3d) 671 (Sup. Ct.) [INCADAT cite: HC/E/CA 760].
Hungarian mother and child of Roma origin applied for refugee status on arrival in Canada. The Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that an order for the return of a child could be made while a refugee claim on behalf of the child was pending. The Hague Convention required that applications for return be dealt with expeditiously. Convention applications could usually be completed within a few months. Refugee claims took a year or more. A refugee claim could not be allowed to defeat the aims of the Convention.
Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v. Garcia, 2007 FCA 75,  1 F.C.R. 322 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/CA 727].
The Federal Court of Appeal decided that the non-return order of the Quebec Court of Appeal in respect of one of the children did not "directly contravene" the deportation order that had been made. Rather the latter ruling simply dismissed the father's application for return of the child - it did not include a specific order as to the child's place of residence. Moreover the finding of the Quebec Court of Appeal in the Hague Convention proceeding that the child had settled into his new environment was not sufficient to justify a stay of the deportation order under the IRPA, s. 50(a).
2008 QCSC 4762, Superior Court of Québec (District of Montreal), No: 500-04-048266-085 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/CA 925].
The mother's application for refugee status did not affect the application of the Hague Convention because the child in this case was an American citizen and had a right to live in the USA.
United Kingdom - England & Wales
Re S. (Children) (Abduction: Asylum Appeal)  EWCA Civ 843,  1 WLR 2548 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 590].
A mother applied for asylum after taking her sons from India ostensibly for a two month vacation. She argued that section 15 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999, which gave domestic effect in the United Kingdom to Article 33 of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 (hereinafter UN Refugees Convention), prohibited the return of the boys to India. The provision provides:
'(1) During the period beginning when a person makes a claim for asylum and ending when the Secretary of State gives him notice of the decision on the claim, he may not be removed from, or required to leave, the United Kingdom.
(2) Subsection (1) does not prevent-(a) directions for his removal being given during that period; (b) a deportation order being made against him during that period.'
The Court of Appeal accepted the father's argument that section 15 only bound the executive branch and as such did not create an exception to the obligations arising under Article 12 of the Hague Convention nor was it intended to circumscribe the duty and discretion of a judge exercising the wardship jurisdiction of the High Court.
The Court acknowledged that there was a potential question as to the extent to which a family court faced with an abduction case should be obliged to take account or comply with Article 33 of the UN Refugees Convention as a freestanding instrument. It did not give a definite answer but stated it was likely a family judge would at the least pay very careful attention to any credible suggestion that a child might be persecuted if he were returned to his country of origin or habitual residence before making any order that such a return should be effected. Nevertheless on the facts of the case the return order was upheld.
Re H. (Child Abduction: Mother's Asylum)  EWHC 1820,  2 FLR 1105 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 587].
The mother had already been granted refugee status when the father's non-Convention return application was heard. The High Court had to consider Article 33 of UN Refugees Convention.
Neither party sought to argue that the grant of refugee status was determinative, one way or the other, of the return application; rather the father argued that it should be given little weight, the mother substantial weight. In the balancing exercise of the factors for and against the return of the child the trial judge ultimately decided that a return order should be made.
Re F. (Children)(Abduction: Removal Outside Jurisdiction)  EWCA Civ. 854,  2 F.L.R. 1649 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 982].
Return ordered as after 3 years of failed asylum applications evidence was produced that the abducting mother would almost inevitably be deported. Consequently it was in the best interests of the children that they be ordered to return to their former State of habitual residence rather than being removed to the mother's State of nationality.
EM. (Lebanon) v. Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKHL 64,  1 A.C. 1198 [INCADAT cite: HC/E/UKe 994].
Solely an immigration case. Mother failed in her application for asylum, but she eventually succeeded in arguing that a return would lead to a violation of her and the child's right to family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). However, it must be noted that on the facts the child's only ‘family life' was with the mother, the father having had no contact with the child since the day of his birth. A majority of the panel (4:1) held that the discriminatory nature of Lebanese family law, which would have led to the automatic transfer of care for the child being passed from mother to father, upon the child reaching his 7th birthday, would not have led to a breach of Convention rights
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)