International Reach of English Family Courts is not Limitless

Many cases involving children have international dimensions and the English family courts have broad powers to deal with them – but their jurisdiction is not limitless. In one case, the Court of Appeal refused to order the immediate return to the UK from Pakistan of a little girl at the centre of a contact dispute.

The seven-year-old girl was born to her lesbian mother following IVF treatment. The mother’s partner played an important part in her upbringing before the relationship came to an acrimonious end. The partner launched proceedings to assert her right to contact with the girl before she became aware that the mother had already taken the child to Pakistan without her consent.

In refusing to consider the partner’s application, a judge found that the girl ceased to be habitually resident in Britain when her mother removed her to Pakistan. Although the child was a British citizen, the judge also declined to exercise her inherent jurisdiction to make her a ward or court and direct her return to the UK.

Challenging that decision, the partner argued that it was very unlikely that the courts in Pakistan would recognise her as having any relationship with the child that would entitle her to contact or any other rights in respect of her. However, in dismissing her appeal, the Court of Appeal found that the judge’s approach to the issue of habitual residence was in line with legal authority. It also noted that the inherent jurisdiction in respect of British citizens was very sparingly used. The Court expressed the hope that the mother would recognise the value of maintaining the relationship between her ex-partner and her daughter and would encourage future contact.