International child abduction is an increasing problem, but cross-border cooperation can achieve great things in curtailing it. In a good example, the High Court of Ireland acceded to an English local authority’s request for the return of a baby girl who was unlawfully removed from the UK by her parents.
The girl was just a few months old when she was made subject to an interim care order and removed from her parents’ care. She was sent to live with her paternal grandmother after the council expressed concern that her mother had falsely reported the child as suffering from non-existent medical problems.
Fearing that their baby would be placed for adoption, the couple removed the child from the grandmother’s home covertly by night and took her to Ireland. The child’s disappearance sparked emergency contact between British and Irish police, but the couple walked into a Garda station with their daughter soon after their arrival in Ireland. The council, which bore responsibility for the girl’s care, swiftly launched proceedings in Ireland under the Hague Convention, which enshrines the ban on international child abduction.
In pleading to be allowed to remain in Ireland with their baby, the couple claimed that they had been unfairly treated and denied a fair hearing by doctors, social workers and judges in England. They argued that they had genuinely believed, on advice, that they were entitled to take their child to Ireland.
In ruling on the matter, the Court noted that the parents clearly loved their child and genuinely believed that they had suffered an injustice. However, the covert removal of the child in the middle of the night was hardly consistent with a belief that they were entitled to take her abroad. At its lowest, their conduct showed a reckless disregard for the interim care order, which included a specific embargo on the child’s removal from the UK.
No final decision as to the girl’s future had yet been reached and she and her parents had been treated humanely. There was no evidence to suggest that the English courts were unwilling to protect her rights or those of her parents. The couple had removed the child, a British citizen, unlawfully and the Convention dictated that she be returned to England.