A High Court judge has offered a Latvian mother a “very sincere and unreserved apology” for her arrest at Birmingham airport.
The woman had been removed from a flight to Spain before she was taken into custody. The arresting officers claimed she was in breach of a ‘location order’. These are “a regular and routine part of the work of High Court judges of the Family Division” when dealing with cases involving children. Such orders require proof of a child’s location and limits on their travel.
In this case, a location order was made because the woman’s ex-husband, who still lived in Latvia, believed she had taken their 13 year-old son to England illegally when she moved here in February. As a result, he launched proceedings in the High Court for his son’s return to Latvia under the provisions of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
Once the location order was made, local police visited the mother’s home. There, she willingly surrendered her son’s passport. Her son was not present for this as he was staying with his adult brother who lived in Northamptonshire.
While the police were at her home, the woman informed them of an upcoming holiday to Spain with some friends. She asked if she was legally allowed to go or if she had to surrender her own passport. As she had no intention of taking her son with her, the police told her that a holiday would not be a problem and they did not take her passport.
Shortly before her holiday, the mother and one of her friends visited a police station to ask again about the court order and how it affected her travel plans. Once again, she was told that because she was travelling without her son, the holiday would not constitute a breach.
Despite these assurances, the mother was arrested at the airport, accused of breaching the order because she had not surrendered her passport and was attempting to leave the country.
Sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Mr Justice Holman said the fault for this confusion did not lie with the police, but with the language of the location order. While it contained “a clear and express embargo on removing the child from England and Wales”, it did not specify whether or not such a ban was to be enforced upon the mother if she travelled alone.
The judge declared that, as a result of the ambiguity in the order, “a terrible injustice was done to this lady”. He ordered that she be released from police custody immediately and offered her “a very sincere and unreserved apology on behalf of the legal system”.
He concluded with a reiteration that the language in the order was the cause of the problem “and for that, ultimately, the judges must take responsibility”.
Taukacs v Taukaca is available in full online. To read it, click here.