A senior family judge made legal history when she asked a five-year-old child which of her parents she wanted to live with. Mrs. Justice Black was hearing an international child abduction case, in which the child, along with her two brothers aged three and eight, were unlawfully brought back to the UK from Ireland last summer by their English mother.
The father used the Hague Convention, the international treaty that governs child abduction in family cases, to ask for the children to be ‘summarily returned’ to him. Normally in these circumstances the court in the country from which the children were abducted would decide where and with whom they should live, but the judge in this case thought that the five-year-old was mature enough for the court to take her view into account.
The court was told that the girl was fearful of having to go back to Ireland to live with her father. A social worker said that the girl started to cry and her eight-year-old brother became ‘fidgety’ when they were told they might have to return to live with their father.
Mrs. Justice Black found that there was no evidence that the mother had put pressure on her children and they were obviously scared of their father. The Hague Convention does not stipulate an age below which it would not be appropriate to take account of a child's views.
The court therefore ruled that the children should be allowed to remain with their mother in England.
The father was denied permission to appeal the decision but, given the significance and potentially widespread importance of the case, the court will give its reasons at a later date.
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