A bitter dispute between the parents of a four year should be reheard following a local authority investigation, a family court Judge has ruled.
The child in question, referred to as ‘AH’, was born to Iranian parents with indefinite leave to remain in the UK, the father having obtained asylum in this country as a political refugee. She has two older half-sisters from an earlier relationship between the mother and another Iranian.
The marriage between AH’s parents broke down and they have been engaged in legal disputes ever since. In the Family Court sitting at Newcastle Upon Tyne, Mr Justice Cobb noted that:
“AH has been the subject of almost continuous litigation between her parents for nearly three years.”
A residence order was made in favour of the mother in July 2013. The father was permitted contact with his daughter but not allowed to take her out of the UK. The mother, by contrast, was allowed to travel with AH but not to Iran, due to concerns that she would settle there and cut off contact with the father who was unable to return to his native country.
Despite the restriction, the mother applied for permission to take AH back to Iran in order to visit her relatives, as well as permission to take her to Turkey for a holiday. The father meanwhile, sought enforcement of a child arrangements order setting out his contact rights.
In court, the father argued that AH would be at risk if she travelled to Iran given his own status as a political opponent of the Iranian regime. Other relatives of his had been detained for months after visiting the country and there were suggestions that the mother’s relatives may have connections to the intelligence services. He expressed regret for the fact that his daughter would not be able to meet members of his own family back in Iran.
The Judge added:
“His subsidiary case was that there was also a possibility that the mother might remain in Iran with their daughter, removing her from the reach of anyone who could assist him.”
He objected to the mother’s wish to visit Turkey because it shares a border with Iran, raising the possibility that the mother might travel over during her holiday.
During the course of the hearing, however, the mother abandoned her application for leave to return to Iran, recognising the risks to her daughter.
The Judge turned to the application regarding Turkey. The mother had offered to make a number of sworn undertakings to address the father’s concerns. These would include promises to provide him with full details of the trip, including their accommodation while in the country, and an offer to swear an oath on the Koran before an Imam, solemnly promising to return to the UK.
Mr Justice Cobb concluded that these undertakings addressed the father’s concerns in a “realistic” and “appropriate” way. His worries may be sincerely held, declared the Judge, but they did “not stand up to critical examination”.
Turning to the child arrangements order, the Judge explained that the mother had become concerned by her daughter’s reports of inappropriate behaviour by the father during her visits. This included suggestions that the father had shouted at his daughter and poked at her eyes. Durham Social Services also raised concerns about the trustworthiness of the father’s partner, whose identity was uncertain.
Mr Justice Cobb concluded that further investigation was required prior to a new hearing on the issues raised. He therefore directed Durham Social Services to produce a report under Section 37 of the Children Act 1989. This states that:
“Where, in any family proceedings in which a question arises with respect to the welfare of any child, it appears to the court that it may be appropriate for a care or supervision order to be made with respect to him, the court may direct the appropriate authority to undertake an investigation of the child’s circumstances.”
In the meantime, the father would be allowed regular contact with his daughter over Skype.
The Judge expressed his concerns regarding the “outpouring of parental bile” he had experienced during the proceedings.
“I was disturbed by the mutual anger, mistrust, contempt, and self-absorbed justification for their actions, particularly on the part of the father. I am satisfied that if AH were to pick up even a fraction of these adult attitudes and hostilities, she is sadly inevitably destined to suffer immediate and profound damage to her emotional wellbeing. In the long-term I worry about her mental health.”
EN v AH can be read here.