The mother of a primary school pupil has been refused permission to appeal against an order that she must be returned to England from Northern Ireland.
In AH v DT, the parents had a two year relationship which ended in 2014, following the birth of a daughter, ‘E’. The situation then became acrimonious. The mother took out a non-molestation order against the father, but a contact order was also drawn up, saying the mother must allow him to see his daughter.
In December 2015, however, she claimed her daughter had said things which suggested her father had sexually abused her. An investigation was launched but neither the police or social services took any further action.
In the meantime the mother moved from Kent to Northern Ireland, without the father’s knowledge or permission. Unsurprising he launched legal proceedings, attempting to enforce the contact order granting him the right to see his daughter.
The case came before His Honour Judge Scarratt in September last year. He made a finding of fact that no sexual abuse had occurred. The mother seemed to accept this and made no attempt to appeal the finding. But she did object to the Judge’s second ruling, in relation to contact.
The father wanted his daughter brought back to England so his weekly visits couldresume. But she argued that she was now settled in Northern Ireland, where she had friends and family. Her daugher had begun nursery and she was attending a college course. Returning to England would not be in E’s best interests she claimed, and the father should instead travel over to the Province once a month.
Judge Scarratt said the same legal principles apply to relocation within the UK as relocation abroad, with the child’s welfare the paramount consideration. He noted that the move to Northern Ireland had taken place recently and both her parents had family in Kent. E should not have difficulty readjusting to life in England he surmised.
E and her father had a strong, “flourishing” relationship, the Judge concluded, and maintaining this in Northern Ireland would be very difficult. Consequently it would be in E’s best interests to return to Kent. He ordered weekly supervised contact for the father, with the programme of visits gradually building up to overnight stays at the father’s house.
The unhappy mother sought permisson to appeal, objecting to the return and the contact ordered by the Judge. But Mr Justice Baker was unpersuaded, saying Jude Scarratt had been entitled to reach the decisions he did on the evidence available. He had been fully aware of and senstive to the issues at hand.
In relation to contact, Mr Justice Baker continued:
“In my judgment… it was plainly within Judge Scarratt’s discretion, having considered the very positive reports concerning contact … [and] the absence of any risk of harm to E, to make an order for the gradual extension of contact in the terms of the order.”
Read the full judgement today.