Care proceedings concerning two children should be transferred to Lithuania, a family court has ruled.
G & A concerned a 12 year-old girl, ‘G’, and her younger brother, ‘A’, who is four. Both were born in the Baltic state, to Lithuanian parents, and lived in the country their whole lives, until November 2013. They have three siblings but these were not involved in the case.
G and A have different fathers, but both men remained behind in Lithuania when the mother brought the children to Britain. She settled in Newham, north London, with four of her five children. However, she took two of the youngsters back to Lithuania shortly afterwards.
A couple of months later, the London Borough of Newham was alerted to the family by the charity Children and Families Across Borders (CFAB). They in turn had heard from the Lithuanian equivalent of social services, who were unsure of the mother’s whereabouts and concerned for the welfare of the children. CFAB told the local authority that the mother had been the subject of interventions by Lithuanian social services before her move, after leaving her children home alone or in the care of her partner when she travelled abroad. She denied these allegations.
Newham was unable to trace the family and closed the case. Later the same year, however, the children were found alone at an address in Newham and taken into police protection. When interviewed, G alleged that her mother had physically abused her and entered into a sham marriage. It emerged that neither child had been attending school since their arrival in the UK. They had also not been registered with a GP.
The following day the mother agreed to the children being taken into foster care.
Sitting the Family Court sitting at East London, Her Honour Judge Carol Atkinson was asked to rule on whether the English courts held jurisdiction to make decisions on the children’s future, given the family’s Lithuanian origins. She noted that the Borough’s legal proceedings had not begun until February this year, despite a requirement that most care cases be completed within 26 weeks.
The Judge wrote:
“I believe that the reason for the delay was that they were busying themselves trying to extract information about the family from the Lithuanian authorities. If that is so, it is no excuse for not issuing proceedings in a timely manner. The result is that we have lost 6 weeks in the timetable to make decisions about these children.”
The case had to be adjourned after the mother failed to submit an adequate statement, then subsequently failed to attend court.
The hearing eventually took place in late March, with the Judge’s written ruling published a few weeks later. She concluded that the family had acquired ‘habitual’ (legal) residence in the UK because the mother had intended to settle permanently in the UK. Consequently, the English courts held jurisdiction in the case.
Nevertheless, Judge Atkinson still believed the children’s interests would best be served by transferring the case to Lithuania, under Article 15 of EU regulation Brussels II Revised. This states that
“…the courts of a member state having jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter may, if they consider that a court of another member state, with which the child has a particular connection, will be better placed to hear the case, or a specific part thereof, and where this is in the best interests of the child… request a court of another member state to assume jurisdiction…”
The children’s family all lived in Lithuania, including their fathers and siblings.
The mother had complained that forcing her to return to Lithuania would mean that she lost her job and accommodation in the UK. The children’s interests had to take precedence over her convenience said Judge Atkinson,
“Whilst I have some sympathy with her so far as her desire to live and work here is concerned that cannot be at the expense of the wellbeing and safety of the children with whom I am concerned. Even looked at neutrally the circumstances in which they have lived here for the last year suggest that these arrangements have been made without giving priority to their needs – for education and health care at the very least.”
The judgement is available to read here.