John Bolch on Tower Hamlets v Ali: the damage done to children

Family Law|March 27th 2014

It is strange how you can get two or more law reports on similar topics crop up in quick succession. Previously this week I have written about the case Leicester City Council v Chhatbar and Another, which involved parents taking their children out of this country after the local authority had become concerned about their welfare.  Only a couple of days after that judgment appeared on Bailii, up popped the case London Borough of Tower Hamlets v Ali and Others, which involved the disappearance of two children who are the subject of public law proceedings.

The case concerns the welfare of two sisters: Azima Ali, who is aged nine and Samira Ali, who is aged three. The local authority has significant concerns about their safety and wellbeing. The mother is said to be, or have been, a heroin addict, and the father has also been dependent on non-prescribed drugs. Despite that, the social workers have been attempting to work with the parents in order to maximise the prospects of the children being raised within their own family.

The father claimed that on 10 March 2014, he and the mother separated and she took the children to live with his sister. On that day the children did not attend school or nursery. The school principal alerted Social Services. They made enquiries and the father told them that he had no knowledge of the whereabouts of the children and the mother.

On the following day the local authority was so concerned about the whereabouts of the children that it took the matter to the court. The court made a location order requiring any person served with the order to inform the tipstaff of the whereabouts of the children if they knew where they were, and also to inform the tipstaff of all matters within their knowledge or understanding which might reasonably assist him in locating the children. The father was served with the order on 12 March 2014.

I won’t go into the details of what happened next. Suffice to say that when the police, acting as agents of the tipstaff, spoke to the father he continued to claim that he did not know where the mother and children were. However text messages on his mobile phone made it quite clear that at that time, he believed the mother and children to be in Bangladesh.

The father was brought before Mr Justice Cobb in the High Court. He found the father to be in breach of the location order and sentenced him to four months’ imprisonment. In the course of his judgment he said the following:

Mr. Ali, untold damage is done to children who are spirited away from one home to another, let alone from one continent to another, without warning or preparation. Disruption to their routines, the predictability of their lives, their family relationships and social relationships and to their schooling is inevitable. Parents who remove children from their home environments in this way cannot, and should not, go unpunished. Parents who seek to protect those who remove children in these circumstances, who deliberately obstruct the due administration of justice, and knowingly breach court orders should also expect to be punished appropriately by the court.

I think that should stand not just as a warning to anyone considering ‘spiriting away’ children in this manner, or helping them to be spirited away, but also as a reminder that it is the children who suffer from such actions.

Image credit: Chiara Vitellozzi Foto.

Author: John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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