The International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU) carries out the day-to-day duties of the Central Authority of England and Wales for the operation of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention (plus some other international conventions).
The 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention is an international, multilateral treaty, which seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of cross-border abduction by providing a procedure enabling countries to work together to ensure that an abducted child must, with few exceptions, be returned to their home country.
The Convention also ensures protection of rights of access (contact) across borders.
The UK is a signatory to this Convention, along with over 90 other countries. There are three separate Central Authorities within the UK (separate ones for England/Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). This article focuses on the procedure in England, since our practice is based in England.
If a child is brought to England from another Hague Convention country, without the consent of both parents, this may be a child abduction. We use the term “abduction” as a shorthand, but the technical terminology is a wrongful removal or retention. There are technical rules to determine whether or not a child’s removal or retention is wrongful within the meaning of the convention.
The “left behind parent” will usually contact the Central Authority in their own country, who will refer the case to ICACU.
When ICACU receives an application for the return of a child, they will refer the application to a solicitor whom it knows to be experienced in international child abduction cases. ICACU has a list of suitably accredited solicitors for this purpose. The solicitor will take conduct of the case and make an application for legal aid to meet the legal costs of the “left behind parent” and will then apply to the High Court for an order for the return of the child to the originating country. Sometimes this will involve urgent applications to try and locate a child who is suspected to be in the country but whose precise whereabouts are unknown. Cases of this nature will involve the Tipstaff, who is the High Court Enforcement Officer, and who works closely with the Police to locate and secure the whereabouts of abducted children.
The Convention directs that abduction cases should be completed urgently within 6 weeks.
The Convention seeks to ensure the swift return of the child to their home country so that the Court in their country of residence can make the appropriate orders about their long-term living arrangements. The Convention does not work explicitly to return the child to the other parent but rather to their country of residence where any applications by either party can be properly considered by the Court of that jurisdiction.
Another type of application often referred via ICACU are international contact cases – these are cases where a parent in another Hague Convention country wishes to apply to the Courts in England and Wales for contact to a child who lives in this jurisdiction. The case will once again be assigned to an accredited solicitor from ICACU’s referral list, who will apply for legal aid and make an application to the Court. Unlike abduction referrals, these cases are not treated as ‘urgent’ but will take effect much like any other application for Child Arrangements in England. The main differences involve logistical issues surrounding international travel, language barriers and time zones.
Lucy Roberts is one of our private law children Solicitors and has expertise in International Child Abduction working with the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU). If you need any assistance with a child abduction issue, please get in touch with Lucy on 03339 390188.
Reunite International is a leading UK charity specialising in international parental child abduction and the movement of children across international borders.
They operate a telephone advice line in the UK offering practical, impartial advice, information and support to parents, family members and guardians who are involved in cases of international parental child abduction – including those who have had their child abducted, or who may have abducted their child, and also including parents who fear their child may be at risk of abduction.
Reunite also offer parents a mediation service specialising in cross-border disputes. Their mediation practice has shown that parents can step outside of the court process to resolve their issues and come to amicable agreements that best meet the needs of their family.
Reunite are committed to raising the profile of international parental child abduction on the international stage and helping to improve practices for the future. They work closely with government departments, including the Ministry of Justice and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office here in the UK, and have working relationships with lawyers, academics, police services, and other statutory and voluntary organisations across the world.
Many parents or family members who are faced with an international child abduction scenario might find and contact Reunite International as their first port of call. If those individuals require legal advice or representation, they will be signposted to Reunite’s Lawyers Listing.
The issues surrounding the breakdown of a relationship with an international element are complex, and inaccurate or late provision of legal advice frequently allows unlawful abduction to take place. With these problems in mind, Reunite has established a network of specialist family lawyers with a particular interest in the field of international parental child abduction and the movement of children across international borders.
We are pleased to be able to offer the necessary specialism and expertise to be included in this listing, and we look forward to working with families who need our help.
Lucy Roberts is a solicitor on our Children Law Team working mainly on private law children matters. She qualified as a solicitor in 2012 and relocated to the Southwest in 2014. Lucy’s particular speciality is working in International Child Abduction cases, which is mainly practiced by lawyers in London and heard by the High Court. Lucy is one of just a handful of solicitors in the Southwest who is accredited to conduct this work.