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High Court rejects jurisdiction over ‘missing’ children

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March 28, 2024

The High Court does not have jurisdiction in the case of two children who went missing with their mother, a judge has declared.

In Re Rodwell, an English couple with four children had their eldest two taken into care. Fearing that their youngest two would also be taken, the family fled the UK and settled in Portugal. The father claims they all lived there together until April 2016 when the mother “disappeared” with the children.

As the couple was from the UK, the father assumed that was where the mother had taken the children. He believed they would most likely be in the Liverpool area with their maternal grandmother or her extended family. The man asked the High Court to order members of the maternal family to appear in person and explain where the mother and children had gone.

Officials had been unable to locate the children by the time the case reached Mr Justice Holman. Tipstaff officers told the judge that there had been no record of the children entering the country from the time they disappeared.

While there was a record of the mother entering the UK during that time, she did not bring the children with her. She left the country again, although the judge could not say exactly when.

Mr Justice Holman said there were “only two possible bases for [the English courts to assert] jurisdiction” in cases like this one. The first was if the children in question were legally or ‘habitually resident’ in England and Wales prior to their removal. The second was if the children were present in the UK having been taken from another country.

The judge declared that, on the balance of probability, “neither of these children [were] present anywhere in the United Kingdom, nor [had] they been present at any time since the alleged removal from Portugal in early April”. As a result, he ruled that the English Courts had no jurisdiction in this matter.

Read the full judgment here.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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