The Family Court made orders regarding the welfare of a Lithuanian child, after the country decided not to assume jurisdiction in the case.
Norfolk County Council v VE & Others concerned ‘V’, a six year-old child born in the Baltic state. Both her parents were Lithuanian nationals but in 2012 her mother came to Britain with V. The girl has had only very limited contact with her father, who stayed behind. In November 2013, the local authority issued care proceedings when the girl appeared at school one day with marks on her face. An investigation revealed that the youngster was at risk of emotional as well as physical harm and she was sent to live with foster carers.
Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 states that local authorities have a duty to provide accommodation for vulnerable children when:
“…there being no person who has parental responsibility for him;
(b)his being lost or having been abandoned; or
(c)the person who has been caring for him being prevented (whether or not permanently, and for whatever reason) from providing him with suitable accommodation or care.”
The courts considered the issue of jurisdiction in formal care proceedings, given V’s nationality, at a hearing earlier this year. A Judge ruled that the English courts did hold legal authority in the case, but that efforts should be focused on returning V to Lithuania. The girl was placed with the mother’s cousin and his partner under a temporary care order, on the understanding that they would return to Lithuania and continue to look after her until the courts in that country made final decisions regarding her future.
The mother, meanwhile, argued that V should be returned to her care and said she would apply for this once back in her home country.
The EU regulation Brussels II Revised sets down rules for family law cases concerning more than one member state. Article 15 of the regulation governs the transfer of cases to jurisdictions thought to be in a better position to hear the case.
At the High Court, Mrs Justice Theis considered the issues. V’s father was in favour of her remaining in England. Meanwhile, the youngster’s legal guardian supported the placement with her mother’s cousin and his partner, who had been positively assessed by social workers. However, she was opposed to formal transfer of jurisdiction to the Lithuanian courts, believing this would cause delay, and instead preferred a final decision by the English courts.
Last month, the Lithuanian authorities withdrew their earlier agreement to the Article 15 transfer, stating it did not “contrary (sic) with the fact that the competent court of United Kingdom will decide on [V’s] further custody proceedings as it is going to accommodate the minor with the Lithuanian family who seem to be appropriate guardians to the competent social workers of the United Kingdom.”
Mrs Justice Theis accepted the social worker’s assessment. It was in V’s best interests, she ruled, to return to Lithuania with her mother’s cousin. The courts in the country could then assess any future concerns, but there would be no formal ‘Article 15’ transfer of jurisdiction from the English courts.
The Judge said:
“The Lithuanian court is clearly better placed to deal with any long term issues regarding her care as the assessments of the parents and any other family members…can more appropriately take place there. The mother intends to make an application to the Lithuanian court. If she does so any assessments or investigations would be undertaken in the jurisdiction where the relevant adults and child will be living and they will be conducted in their first language, without the need for an interpreter.”
The father’s preference that V remain in the UK, meanwhile, was “wholly contrary” to her welfare and had “no reasoned basis”, she added.
Read the judgement here.