Senior judge apologises for High Court ‘blunder’

Family Law|June 10th 2015

President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has offered an “unreserved apology” to a mother following a mistake by the High Court.

Sir James admitted that the court had “blundered” in a case involving the woman’s seven year-old daughter.

In April, Mrs Justice Pauffley ordered that the girl had to be returned to her father in the United States. The judge’s order was made in accordance with the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. This is an agreement which facilitates the return of children who have been unlawfully taken abroad by one of their parents.

The mother unsuccessfully appealed the decision. Despite this result, she was granted a “stay” until midday on 22 May should she want to renew her application to appeal. This meant that she did not have to return her daughter to the US until that date.

On 22 May, the mother renewed her application. However, this was the day before the court took a break until June. During that break, Sir James Munby was acting as a temporary “vacation judge”. He made an order that the mother’s application was “out of time” because it was made in the afternoon of the 22nd. Therefore, he ruled that the mother had “not complied with the order that the child be returned the USA”.

Unbeknownst to Sir James, Lady Justice King had already made an order which extended the stay until June. Sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, he said that his office was not informed of the extension until 4 June. The court break was most likely responsible for the miscommunication, he claimed.

As a result, Sir James set aside a majority of his order “on the basis of inadvertent non-disclosure of critical information”. He concluded that the mother and child were “entitled to an unreserved apology for what has happened” and expressed hope that “nothing similar happens again”.

To read Re J (A Child) in full, click here.

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