The uncle of an abducted child has escaped a prison sentence for contempt of court.
The six-year old boy was the son of a British father and a Polish mother. He lived with his mother in Poland full-time. Late last year, the mother allowed him to visit his father on condition he returned the boy in time for school in January.
However, the father did not return his son on the agreed date. Instead, he “effectively disappeared with him”. Sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Mr Justice Holman noted that there had been evidence that the two had “rapidly travelled between Germany, Belgium and France, and may then have entered England”.
As a result, the mother launched proceedings in the English courts and applied for a collection order. Anyone presented with such an order must inform the authorities of “all matters within his or her knowledge or understanding which might reasonably assist him in locating the child”. This was significant in this case because neither the mother, nor the authorities could be certain where the father and child were.
In June, police visited the uncle’s home and presented him with the order. He claimed that he did not know where his brother and nephew were. The authorities believed he “knew more than he was revealing” and was therefore disobeying the order. Consequently he was arrested and spent 13 nights in custody.
The mother then applied for the uncle to be committed to prison for contempt of court. However, the Family Procedure Rules 2010 state that in orders which can result in jail time, the consequences of disobeying must be “prominently displayed” on the front page, Mr Justice Holman said.
But the warning on this order was not featured until the fifth page, the judge explained, and video evidence from the police showed no indication he had read that much of the document. The mother drew attention to a rule that if a court decides “no injustice has been caused to the respondent”, any problems with the application can be set aside.
Mr Justice Holman disagreed with the mother’s claim, declaring that in fact “a great deal of injustice was caused” to the uncle. He did not think that either the man or the arresting officers “imagined for one moment … that he was about to spend no less than thirteen nights continuously in custody”.
With that in mind, the judge declared that he could not set aside the procedural problems with the mother’s application and “struck out” the mother’s application.
To read the full judgment, click here.