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Case Study no: FD22P0652 Return Order of the High Court of Justice Family Division- Return of the child to his mother from England to Greece pursuant to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction after one year of “hostage” by his father in England

On 2 of February 2023 the High Court of Justice- Family Division heard the application submitted by my client for the return of her 8 years old son, from England, where his father had unlawfully and without her consent moved him, to Greece, where she was living herself. The Court, finding that the mother, despite the accusations of the father, was not dangerous for the child, rejected his objection and accepted the mother’s application ordering at the same day the way that he should return with her to Greece. As an attorney I supported the mother at the application and being her legal counsel in Greece managed to realize in collaboration with Dawson Cornwell Law Firm in London the return of the child.

The case that came to be decided in the chambers of the High Court of England and Wales was the following: The minor, aged 7, was growing up with his mother in Chania, Crete. The mother worked in the catering industry and raised him essentially on her own. The mother’s partner of British citizenship and father of the child, with whom she had not married but had recognised the child as his own, also lived in the area of Chania, but his involvement in the upbringing of the child was ‘superficial’: The financial assistance he provided was minimal to zero, while when he held the child, his behaviour nullified the education and upbringing adopted by the mother, teaching him a way of life without limits and rules and influencing the child against her. The father reported the mother to the social services, stating that the mother, in her upbringing of the child, was overstepping the boundaries of correctional education and was becoming violent towards the child. The social worker who took charge of the case considered that the mother was not able to support the upbringing of the child and following her social report the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered the child to live with his father. The de facto award of custody of the child to the father demonstrated his unsuitability for this role : the child in a very short period of time displayed a behavior that was disturbing in the school environment, showed disorganization and instability psychologically, and the father systematically violated the social worker’s suggestions. Meanwhile the mother, also assessed by a psychiatrist, was considered to be fit to perform her parental role and simply needed to be supported psychosocially. In February 2021, the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordered the child to be urgently returned to his mother’s care, but the father was unwilling to comply with the order: taking advantage of the mother’s absence for a few days, he abducted the child and illegally transported him to England. The mother reported the father for child abduction and contacted the Chania Public Prosecutor’s Office to assist her in locating the child and returning him.

Since then, a campaign has been launched to locate the child. The Public Prosecutor’s Office made many unsuccessful attempts both through the British Consulate and through the Ministry of Justice to contact the social services in England in order to locate the child, assess his living conditions and ultimately secure his return to our country. The mother contacted me in September 2022.

With my guidance and in conjunction with Dawson Cornwell law firm, the mother applied directly to the Hague Convention 1980 Central Authority for the Civil Abduction of Children (ICACU) in England, which accepted her application and secured legal aid for her. Interim measures were immediately taken, which led to the father and child being traced, passports being seized and the contact between child and mother being established, and a return trial was initiated. The father at the trial lodged an objection under Article 13b of the Hague Convention, stating that he was opposed to returning to Greece and that if the child returned alone to Greece with the mother, his mental and physical integrity would be at risk. He argued that the Greek social services were “corrupt” and that the child’s allegations of physical abuse had not been thoroughly investigated.

However, the file of the minor in the Prosecutor’s Office revealed the opposite, that not only had the charges been thoroughly examined but also that it had been decided that the real danger to the child was the father and not his mother. Again, however, the Court doubted whether the social services in Greece were “ready” to monitor the child on his return and to guarantee his safety. Indeed, it appeared from the child’s file that the social services had completed their work and there was no outstanding order from the Public Prosecutor’s Office ordering the monitoring of the child to satisfy the requirements of the English Court. The Prosecution Service exceptionally granted a document which not only confirmed that it would monitor the minor but also that it had actively supported his return to the care of the mother. Convinced that even if the child could be placed in any danger, appropriate measures had been taken to ensure his physical and mental integrity, the court ordered the child’s return.

The English Court’s approach to the case is in line with the spirit of the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Due to the urgent nature of the proceedings (“hot pursuit case”) the court does not in principle examine the merits of the allegations but engages in a mental exercise which is: if all of this is true, are there protective measures that can be taken to deal with the alleged “danger” and therefore order return? Beyond that, the courts of the State of origin (in this case the Greek courts) have jurisdiction over the merits of the case, and the issues of the child’s custody. This spirit is also reflected in the provision under paragraph 3 of Article 27 of Regulation 1111/2019 according to which ” Where a court considers refusing to return a child solely on the basis of point (b) of Article 13(1) of the 1980 Hague Convention, it shall not refuse to return the child if the party seeking the return of the child satisfies the court by providing sufficient evidence, or the court is otherwise satisfied, that adequate arrangements have been made to secure the protection of the child after his or her return..”

In lieu of an epilogue

The 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction aims at the prompt return of the child to the person of reference and care and the general restoration of the child’s pre-abduction life. To this end, judicial cooperation between the contracting States is very important, and the lawyer of the “left-behind” parent is often called upon to play the role of the “middleman”.

svgFebruary 2023 - Judgment No. 845/2023 of the Athens Court of First Instance - No deviation from the rule of joint exercise of custody of the minor children of the parties, regulation of the father's communication with them and his obligation to contribute to their maintenance
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svgMarch 2023 - Decision No. 882/2023 of the Athens Three-Members Misdimeanours Court - Acquittal of the accused for domestic violence and threat