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Cases in which assistance is sought from authorities abroad

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Re V – Z (Children) [2016] EWCA Civ 475

Summary by Ramanjit Kang

 

One of the key points that came from Re V – Z (Children) [2016] EWCA Civ 475 was how important it is for there to be clear communication with foreign authorities when seeking their assistance in family law matters.

In this case I represented the applicant mother who was supporting her own mother to care for her four children in Slovakia. The maternal grandmother had two positive assessments carried out by the Slovak authorities, but was ruled out by the Local Authority following a telephone call with her.

We successfully appealed the lower court’s decision on the basis that the Local Authority had failed to properly assess the family member based abroad. The Court of Appeal set out guidance stating factors that the court must bear in mind when dealing with foreign authorities.

The factors that the court must consider are:

(i)     the foreign authorities are informed clearly and comprehensively what questions they are requested to answer as part of their assessment;

(ii)     the foreign authorities are provided with all the information they need to carry out the enquiry/assessment asked of them;

(iii)     the material sent to the foreign authorities is documented carefully and comprehensively;

(iv)     any queries posed by the foreign authorities during the course of their assessment are answered;

(v)     any matters that require further exploration by them, or in respect of which they may be able to provide material information, such as details of local resources to assist in or supervise the care of the children are followed up assiduously;

(vi)     the manner in which progress might be made in the event that obstacles are encountered is considered creatively, bearing in mind that it may be possible to communicate directly with those who are responsible for carrying out the assessment in the foreign state, although it would be prudent first to consult our Central Authority for advice as to whether that would be acceptable to the foreign state in question.

 

There were important lessons to be learned from this guidance. At first instance the judge did not agree that the assessment of the maternal grandmother by the Local Authority was deficient and ruled her out as a carer. The trial judge prioritised concern about delay over the prospect of placement with family abroad. It was unfair to proceed on this basis when no attempt had been made to obtain further information from the Slovak authorities.

This matter was remitted for re-hearing in the High Court and at the conclusion of the remitted final hearing the Local Authority’s care plan for adoption was successfully opposed.

The judgment of Re V-Z (2016) was shortly followed by the President’s Guidance of April 2016: Liaison between Courts in England and Wales and British Embassies and High Commissions Abroad, which describes procedures which are to be followed when a court in England and Wales exercising family jurisdiction seeks to invoke diplomatic assistance.

 

This post was written for Coram’s international children law blog and will be featured in our September 2019 newsletter. To subscribe, email theresa.yurkewich@coramchambers.co.uk. Our International Children Law team has extensive experience in public and private child disputes. We act as family law barristers on a range of international children law matters, including relocation, Hague and non-Hague child abduction, international surrogacy, and cases of contested jurisdiction. 

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