The case of Welsh teacher, Jennifer Jones, reported in the papers this week provides an example of the powers the High Court has to enforce orders made within abduction proceedings and also, how willing they are to use them when orders are breached.
Whilst many see Family orders as sometimes lacking in “teeth” this is not the case in abduction proceedings, where robust sanctions can and will be applied quickly in the event of non-compliance.
According to press reports, Ms Jones removed the Children from their father in Spain last year, and was ordered to return them to him, but failed to do so. He has, it is reported, issued High Court proceedings here in England for the return of the children to be enforced. In a hearing this week, Ms Jones was reported as being warned that she faces a prison sentence if she does not now return the children to Spain in compliance with the order.
Under the Hague Convention, the international ‘rules’ on Child Abduction, signatory countries guarantee to take decisive action to secure, wherever possible, the swift return of children to their home country, when they have been wrongfully removed. This includes ensuring that orders made are enforced, and one such measure which is employed in such cases is a term of imprisonment. In other cases, the court will authorise appropriate professionals, such as Social Workers to collect the children, usually with the help of the police or court bailiff, and escort them on the plane home in the event the parent who has been ordered to do so does not comply. Examples of both courses of action have been reported in the press in the last year and whilst of course a last resort, will be ordered by the court if it becomes necessary.
It would also probably surprise people to know the measures the court can and will take to locate abducted children, in the event the abducting Parent tries to hide to avoid return proceedings. Information can be obtained from government agencies, mobile phone and email providers, and family members and even solicitors can be summoned to the High Court to give evidence as to their knowledge of the whereabouts of the children.
The wide range of powers available to the court and the draconian nature of them act as a warning to parents considering wrongfully removing or retaining a child as to the potentially very serious consequences of doing so, and the need to get advice prior to removing children from a country if you are unsure whether you are legally entitled to do so.