Re H (Abduction: Acquiescence)

JurisdictionUK Non-devolved
Judgment Date10 April 1997
Judgment citation (vLex)[1997] UKHL J0410-1
Date10 April 1997
CourtHouse of Lords
In re H

and others


[1997] UKHL J0410-1

Lord Browne-Wilkinson

Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle

Lord Mustill

Lord Clyde



My Lords,


In this appeal three young children were removed by their mother, the respondent, from their home in Israel and brought to England without the consent of the appellant, their father. Some six months after the date of such removal, the father applied to the courts in England for an order directing the summary return of the children to Israel under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, 1980. Under the Convention, the English court was bound to order such summary return unless the father had "acquiesced" in the removal of the children. Sumner J. held that the father had not so acquiesced. The Court of Appeal (Stuart-Smith, Waite and Otton L.JJ.), The Times, August 14, 1996 reversed that decision, holding that the father had acquiesced. On 11 November 1996 your Lordships allowed an appeal to this House and ordered the immediate return of the children, indicating that reasons would be given at a later date. These are my reasons.


The facts


The father was born in Israel: the mother in England. Both are strict Orthodox Jews. Their families arranged their marriage, which was celebrated in London in May 1991. Following the marriage, the couple spent much of their time in Israel but also substantial periods with the mother's family in England. There was a dispute before the judge whether or not the children were habitually resident in Israel. The judge held that they were so resident and his decision on that point was not subsequently challenged.


The oldest child was born in England on 3 October 1992; the second child was also born in England on 18 December 1993; the third child was born in Israel on 6 February 1995.


Unfortunately the marriage was not successful, partly at least because the mother was not happy living in Israel. On 9 November 1995 the mother flew to England with the children. At first she contended that the father had consented to this but it was accepted before the judge that the children were removed without the father's knowledge or consent. On 13 November 1995 the mother obtained an ex parte order from Edmonton County Court which, inter alia, prohibited the father from removing the children from the care and control of the mother or from England. That order was continued, inter partes, on 23 November 1995. However, the father did not receive the notice of that hearing until the day after it took place.


It is of central importance that both the father and the mother are Orthodox Jews. The father in his evidence deposes that their religious beliefs:

"… involves us living by the Torah and an obligation, whenever there is a problem, to refer matters to my Rabbi and seek his advice. Under the terms of our religious persuasion we are obligated, in the event of a dispute between the two members of the community, to appeal to a 'Beth Din.' This is, in effect, a religious Court of Law and according to our law I am not able to seek the help of a 'regular' Court of Law unless authorised so to do by the Beth Din. It is because I am an Orthodox Jew that I have proceeded in this case in the way that I can now recount. The simple position is that if I had sought the assistance of any court other than the Beth Din (without their consent) I would have been subject to effective excommunication from my lifestyle and from my faith. This would have had the effect, inevitably, of destroying my community life. I would have been forbidden ever to go to any synagogue and never again invited to an Orthodox Jew's home – even those of my own family. None of my present friends and acquaintances would again speak to me."


On hearing of the English proceedings, the father immediately consulted his local Beth Din in Israed ("the Israel Beth Din"). He was told to ignore the English order and not to take part in the English proceedings. On 26 January 1996 the Israel Beth Din issued a summons to the mother directing her to attend that court in Israel on 19 February 1996 "for the purpose of a Get (Bill of Divorcement) and the ramifications thereof." The mother, having failed to attend the Israel Beth Din, received further summonses on 19 and 28 February 1996. At this stage the mother consulted her Beth Din in London which sent a letter to the Israel Beth Din saying that the dispute should be resolved in London not in Israel. On 11 March the Israel Beth Din informed the mother that her submission that there should be rabbinical proceedings in England was rejected and served her with a fourth summons to attend the Israel Beth Din, this time on 18 March 1996. On 15 March the London Beth Din again wrote to the Israel Beth Din claiming that the London Beth Din was the appropriate forum. On 21 March the Israel Beth Din rejected that submission and issued a fifth summons against the mother to appear on 22 April 1996.


At the end of March or in early April 1996 the father asked the mother to agree that the children should come to spend Passover with him in Israel, promising to return them to her after the festival. The request was refused. At some stage in early April the father first learned of the existence of the Convention. In consequence, when the mother failed to appear on 22 April 1996 before the Israel Beth Din, it made an order authorising the father to take whatever steps he saw fit. The father then immediately invoked the Convention procedures as a result of which on 3 May 1996 the father's originating summons was issued seeking the summary return of the children under the Convention.


Finally by a letter dated 25 March 1996 but in fact not sent until the middle of May 1996 the London Beth Din requested the father to withdraw the Convention proceedings to avoid "contempt and slander" against the father for taking proceedings in the secular courts.


The Convention


The Convention was signed in 1980 and a large number of countries, including the United Kingdom and Israel, have acceded to it. It was incorporated into the law of the United Kingdom by the Child Abduction and Custody Act, 1985, section 1(2) and Schedule 1. The recitals and Article 1 of the Convention set out its underlying purpose. Although they are not specifically incorporated into the law of the United Kingdom, they are plainly relevant to the construction of an international treaty. The object of the Convention is to protect children from the harmful effects of their wrongful removal from the country of their habitual residence to another country or their wrongful retention in some country other than that of their habitual residence. This is to be achieved by establishing a procedure to ensure the prompt return of the child to the State of his habitual residence.


Articles 3 and 4 provide, so far as relevant, that the removal or retention of a child under 16 is wrongful when it is effected in breach of rights of custody enjoyed by a person under the law of the State where the child was habitually resident. Articles 6 and 7 provide for each Contracting State to establish a Central Authority. Under Articles 8 and 9 a person claiming that a child has been wrongfully removed or retained can apply to the Central Authority of the State of habitual residence, which then transmits the application to the Central Authority of the State to which the child has been abducted. Under Article 10 the latter Central Authority must seek the voluntary return of the child. If this proves impossible, proceedings for return of the child to the country of habitual residence are brought before the judicial or administrative authorities of the State to which the child has been abducted.


For present purposes, the critical provisions of the Convention are contained in Articles 12 and 13 which, so far as relevant, provide as follows:

"Article 12

Where a child has been wrongfully removed or retained in terms of Article 3 and, at the date of the commencement of the proceedings before the judicial or administrative authority of the Contracting State where the child is, a period of less than one year has elapsed from the date of the wrongful removal or retention, the authority concerned shall order the return of the child forthwith.

The judicial or administrative authority, even where the proceedings have been commenced after the expiration of the period of one year referred to in the preceding paragraph, shall also order the return of the child, unless it is demonstrated that the child is now settled in its new environment…."

"Article 13

Notwithstanding the provisions of the preceding Article, the judicial or administrative authority of the requested State is not bound to order the return of the child if the person, institution or other body which opposes its return establishes that–

(a) the person, institution or other body having the care of the person of the child was not actually exercising the custody rights at the time of removal or retention, or had consented to or subsequently acquiesced in the removal or retention; or

(b) there is a grave risk that his or her return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation…" (emphasis added).


Under Article 16, the courts of the State to which the child has been abducted are not to determine the merits of a custody claim after receiving notice of a wrongful removal or retention until it has been determined that the child is not to be summarily returned or unless an application is not lodged within a reasonable time following receipt of the notice.


In the present case, therefore, the following points had to be considered and determined by the English court:

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