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.