A mother who had been ordered to return her three year-old son to Italy has had the ruling overturned by the High Court.
In TF v PJ, Ms Justice Russell had ordered the return of the woman’s son, referred to as ‘RF’, at a hearing in November last year, shortly before her official appointment to the High Court. The father had applied for his return under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, an multinational agreement which allows children taken without permission into other participating countries by a parent to be returned home.
The mother initially appealed, but when this was unsuccessful she applied to have the ruling revoked.
Sitting at the High Court in London, Mr Justice Mostyn explained:
“She alleges that since the order made by her and, more particularly, since the order made by the Court of Appeal she has had a total psychological and psychiatric collapse.”
The judge considered whether or he had the legal right to revoke the earlier ruling. He considered a number of precedents, in particular the 2013 Supreme Court ruling In the Matter of L and B. This contained the right of a judge to change his or her mind on a case. In that case a judge gave a written judgement which differed from her spoken judgement two months earlier. The Supreme Court ruled that the judge had been free to change her mind because her earlier spoken ruling had not been finalised.
Mr Justice Mostyn concluded that rule 4.1(6) of the Family Procedure Rules do provide courts with the power to “vary” [change] or “revoke” [cancel] a legal order, provided there has been a failure to disclose relevant information or a “significant change of circumstances”.
He considered an assessment of the woman’s mental health by a psychiatrist. This had concluded that she was suffering from an acute anxiety disorder “and associated depression”. He declared:
“I consider her condition to be genuine.”
“The trigger to do with the deterioration in mother’s mental health is her fear of a return to Italy. Her condition deteriorated on 29th November when the return order was made. It seems that her panic attacks have worsened as have her nightmares.”
If her son was removed from her care, she “would lapse into a state of despondency and depression”, he said. He was also a suicide risk.
Mr Justice Mostyn concluded:
“This evidence goes far beyond anything that was before Ms. Russell QC or the Court of Appeal. To my mind it represents a sea change in the relevant evidence appertaining to the mother’s mental health. That alone, in my opinion, justifies a finding of a material change of circumstances.”
Read the full judgement here.