AB v EM. Recognising Sharia decisions in England.

AB v EM [2020] EWHC 549 (Fam) concerns for a large part the application of Brussels IIa’s traditional jurisdictional rules (habitual residence etc.) and I shall not comment on those.

Of interest to the blog are, first, at 37 ff the application of the Regulation’s forum non conveniens rules: in that respect, compare with my posts on V v M and W v L. Further, the question whether the order made by the Sunnite Sharia Court of Beirut on 6 February 2019 in proceedings commenced by the mother in Lebanon in November 2018, incorporating and approving an agreement between the parties to these proceedings regarding custody and access with respect to M, capable of recognition in the UK and, if so, what impact should this have on the UK courts’ welfare determination?  The 2019 agreement established that the father would have custody of M and would reside with M in either the United Kingdom, Egypt or some other location of his choosing.

MacDonald J at 71-73, having referred to the spirit of comity, does not hold on what at 73 are briefly refered to as ‘wider criticisms’ of the February 2019 Order, or the allegations of durress in the coming to be of that order. He notes more as a matter of fact that circumstances in the child’s welfare have changed since the Order, and that the father did not at any rate honour elements of the agreement which the Order had confirmed.

No grand statement of principle, therefore. Rather, a measured practical approach.

Geert.

Brexit in transit. Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council v KC et al. Exequatur insisted on.

Update II 8 April 2020 : just after my earlier update, Lecta Paper’s scheme of arrangement sanction hearing was published on BAILII: Trower J considers the end of the transition period at 40.

Update 8 April 2020 compare Crossley & Ors v Volkswagen Aktiengesellschaft & Ors [2020] EWFC 28 in which Waksman J succinctly holds at 12

‘On 31 January 2020, shortly after the conclusion of the trial, the UK withdrew from the EU. I asked the parties whether this would make any difference to any of the arguments made before me. I received written submissions on that topic on 4 and 9 March 2020. It is clear from those submissions that it is common ground that Brexit makes no difference here because EU Law (including the jurisdiction of the CJEU) will continue to have effect as if the UK was still a Member State until the end of the “transition period” which is 31 December 2020. This includes the general obligations which the UK owes qua Member State. Accordingly, for the purpose of this judgment, the position is as it was before 31 January 2020.’

(update ctd) and note VB v TR [2020] EWFC 28 where Mostyn J at 6 refers to the (until the end of the transition period) exclusive EU external competence to recognise (on the basis of reciprocity) countries as being on the accession list for the Hague 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction – which Bermuda is not even if the UK itself had recognised it as being part of the Hague regime. At 12: ‘In my judgment the law needs to be changed as between the United Kingdom and its overseas territories to provide that the 1980 Hague Convention operates between them. It is an embarrassment that if a child were taken from Bermuda to United States of America the Convention would apply, but if the child is brought here it does not. Alternatively, the law needs to be changed so that the automatic recognition of orders within the United Kingdom under the Family Law Act 1986 is extended to orders made in the Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies.’

 

In Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council v KC et al [2020] EWFC 20, Dancey J at  62 ff is the first UK judge to my knowledge to discuss the implications of the UK’s separation from the EU’s civil procedure /justice and home affairs agenda, particularly in the transition period. It includes a discussion of the UK’s Brexit (EU Exit) Regulations 2019/2003, reg 3, and the European Commission notice on transition provisions.

The care proceedings concern W, a girl aged 9, nearly 10. W’s parents, who were married, are Polish nationals and W was born there. Following the separation of the parents in Poland in April 2016, contested contact proceedings there resulted in an order providing that W live with the mother with contact to the father. The father’s parental responsibility was limited to decisions about medical treatment and education. Following the breakdown of the father’s contact with W, the mother brought her to the UK in June 2018 where they have remained since. That was done without the father’s agreement, although he was aware the mother planned to relocate and acquiesced once the move had taken place. The mother did not tell the father of her and W’s location within the UK.

The legal framework, therefore, is Brussels IIa, Regulation 2201/2003. Dancey J at 63 concedes that by reg 8 of 2019/2003, dealing with saving/transitional provisions, the UK’s revocation from Brussels IIa does not apply to proceedings before a court in a Member State seised before 31 December 2020. However he then refers to the EC Notice to Stakeholders: Withdrawal of the United Kingdom and EU Rules in the Field of Civil Justice and Private International Law: 18/1/2019, and suggests it means that EU rules on recognition and enforcement will not apply to a UK judgment, even if the judgment was given, or enforcement proceedings started, before 1 January 2021 unless the judgment has been exequatured (declared enforceable by the courts of the Member State where recognition or enforcement is required) before 1 January 2021. Support for his opinion is found I suspect mostly in Heading 2.2 of that Notice – although I should warn against the matter of factly nature of that notice without much justification given for the positions it takes. Update 29 03 2020 and as Xavier Lewis has pointed out to me, the notice was put out there in the eventuality of a no deal – Dancey J does not refer to the Withdrawal Agreement at all.

At 66 Dancey J suggests in practice the consequence should not be too dramatic in the case at issue for ‘one or other of the parents should apply promptly in Poland for a declaration recognising this judgment and the order that will follow (exequaturing the judgment).’ That absence of real delay in the case at issue may well be true (it is confirmed by a letter from the Polish consulate) however the  implications are already clear and no surprise. Enforcement of UK judgments will be a lot less smooth post Brexit.

Geert.

W v L. Brussels IIa and forum non conveniens ex-EU.

When I reported [2019] EWHC 466 (Fam) V v M, I suggested that forum non considerations there, moot given that eventually jurisdiction of the English courts was upheld, would resurface in further cases. They have. [2019] EWHC 1995 (Fam) W v L eventually went much the same way as V v M.

The Brussels BIIa Regulation applies when determining the question of jurisdiction regardless of whether there is an alternative jurisdiction in a non-member state (Re A (Jurisdiction: Return of Child) [2014] 1 AC 1 , later confirmed in CJEU UD v XB C-393/18 PPU [2019] 1 WLR 3083 ). Brussels IIa has an intra-EU forum non conveniens regime (applied in C‑428/15, Child and Family Agency, on which I report here).

Art 8(1) of BIIa provides that the courts of a Member State shall have jurisdiction in matters of parental responsibility over a child who is habitually resident in that Member State at the time the court is seised.

MacDonald J at 30 posits that where the English court does have jurisdiction under Art 8 BIIa but there are proceedings also in a third party non-member state (here: Jordan) the issue becomes one of forum conveniens – which he subsequently discusses following the Spiliada criteria. In V v M to which current judgment refers at 34, Williams J reflected on whether forum non at all has calling following (he held it does; not convincingly). MacDonald J in current case first at 30 simply seems to accept such application. Then at 38 holds he need not decide this issue here (counsel had suggested the issue was in fact covered by Brussels Ia and the precedent value of Owusu therefore clear) for even if forum non conveniens has to be decided, it clearly points to England.

In conclusion, therefore: the issue still has not been settled and will, again, return.

Geert.

 

V v M. Forum non conveniens in family matters ex-Brussels IIa and Hague Convention parties.

In [2019] EWHC 466 (Fam) V v M, Williams J refused both an application for a stay on the basis of forum non conveniens of English proceedings in favour of proceedings in India, and an anti-suit injunction. Applicant mother is V and the respondent is the father M. They are engaged in litigation in England and in India in respect of their son. The English limb of the proceedings is the mother’s application for wardship which was issued on or about the 16 October 2018, and which includes within it application for the summary return of the child from India to England.

India is (obviously) neither a Brussels IIa party nor the 1996 Hague child Protection Convention. Brussels IIa contains a forum non-light regime (as Brussels Ia now does, too): see e.g. Child and Family Agency v J.D. Whether more general forum non is excluded following Owusu v Jackson per analogiam, has not reached the CJEU however as Williams J notes at 22 ‘the trend of authority in relation to the ‘Owusu-v-Jackson’ points towards the conclusion that the power to stay proceedings on forum non-conveniens grounds continues to exist in respect of countries which fall outside the scheme of BIIa or the 1996 Hague Child Protection Convention.’

Given that eventually he upholds jurisdiction of the English courts, the point is moot however may be at issue in further cases.

At 48 ff the various criteria for forum non were considered:

i) The burden is upon the applicant to establish that a stay of the English proceedings is appropriate.

ii) The applicant must show not only that England is not the natural or appropriate forum but also that the other country is clearly the more appropriate forum.

iii) In assessing the appropriateness of each forum, the court must discern the forum with which the case has the more real and substantial connection in terms of convenience, expense and availability of witnesses. In evaluating this limb the following will be relevant;

a) The desirability of deciding questions as to a child’s future upbringing in the state of his habitual residence and the child’s and parties’ connections with the competing forums in particular the jurisdictional foundation

b) The relative ability of each forum to determine the issues including the availability of investigating and reporting systems. In practice, judges will be reluctant to assume that facilities for a fair trial are not available in the court of another jurisdiction but this may have to give way to the evidence in any particular case.

c) The convenience and expense to the parties of attending and participating in the hearing and availability of witnesses.

d) The availability of legal representation.

e) Any earlier agreement as to where disputes should be litigated.

f) The stage any proceedings have reached in either jurisdiction and the likely date of the substantive hearing.

g) Principles of international comity, insofar as they are relevant to the particular situation in the case in question. However public interest or public policy considerations not related to the private interests of the parties and the ends of justice in the particular case have no bearing on the decision which the court has to make.

h) The prospects of success of the applications.

iv) If the court were to conclude that the other forum was clearly more appropriate, it should grant a stay unless other more potent factors were to drive the opposite result; and

v) In the exercise to be conducted above the welfare of the child is an important (possibly primary), but not a paramount, consideration.

 

Conclusion is that on clear balance England is the natural and appropriate forum and India is not clearly the more appropriate forum.

At 50, the anti-suit injunction was considered premature (Williams J suggests that had it been a commercial matter, it may not have been): ‘Assuming that a stay application can be made and that some form of judicial liaison can be commenced to enable this court and the Indian court to work cooperatively to solve the riddle of competing applications in our respective courts, it is in my view wholly premature to grant such an injunction. That situation might fall to be reconsidered if no progress can be made and in particular if the father embarked upon a rear-guard action to play the Indian courts to delay the resolution of matters. However we are far from that position as yet.’

Note the comity considerations here, reflecting on the potential judicial co-operation between India and England, advanced here given the interest of the child (less likely for purely commercial cases, one assumes).

Geert.

 

Sir Peter Singer and languages at the European Court of Justice.

My eye fell last week-end on The Times of London’s obituary of Sir Peter Singer, z”l , who passed away late in December.

The Times recall among others his linguistic skills and refer specifically to his judgment in [2013] EWHC 49 (Fam) DL  v EL, upheld by the Court of Appeal in [2013] EWCA Civ 865Regular readers will be aware of my interest in languages at the CJEU.

Sir Peter was applying the Brussels IIa Regulation 2001/2003 and had to decide inter alia where the child was habitually residing. In an endnote he discussed C-497/10 PPU Mercredi v Chaffe. At 76 he juxtaposes the English and French versions of the judgment (a technique I insist my students and pupils employ), observing the difference between ‘stabilité ‘ used in the French version and ‘permanence’ in the English, concluding that ‘stability’ would be the more accurate term. The Court of Appeal discusses the issue in 49.

Delightfully accurate and erudite.

Geert.

MB v TB. When is a court ‘seized’ under EU civil procedure /private international law?

When is a court ‘seized’ under EU civil procedure /private international law? The question is highly relevant in light of the application of the lis alibi pendens principle: the court seized second in principle has to cede to the court seized first. Williams J in [2018] EWHC 2035 (Fam) MB v TB notes the limited attempt at harmonisation under EU law and hence the need for the lex fori to complete the procedural jigsaw.

On 8 July 2016 MB (the wife) issued a divorce petition seeking a divorce from TB (the husband). On 16 August 2016 the husband issued a divorce petition against the wife out of the Munich Family Court. On the 22 August 2016 the husband filed an acknowledgement of service to the wife’s petition asserting that the German court was first seized because it was ‘not accepted England is first seized, owing to failures to comply with art. 16 and 19 of Council Regulation (EC 2201/2003) and relevant articles of the EC Service Regulation (EC 1393/2007).

At issue were two considerations: whether seizure of the English courts had been effected; and whether the wife’s issuing of the petition on 8 July 2016 is an abuse of process on the basis that the wife did not at that time consider the marriage to have irretrievably broken down but was issuing a petition simply to secure the English jurisdiction in the event that a divorce was needed? This latter element amounts to disciplining a form of fraus, on which I have reported before – eg here that there is very little EU law.

In Regulation ‘Brussels IIa’ (2201/2003) – concerning jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility, as in the other Regulations, ‘seising of a Court’ is defined as:

  1. A court shall be deemed to be seised: 

(a) at the time when the document instituting the proceedings or an equivalent document is lodged with the court, provided that the applicant has not subsequently failed to take the steps he was required to take to have service effected on the respondent;

or

(b) if the document has to be served before being lodged with the court, at the time when it is received by the authority responsible for service, provided that the applicant has not subsequently failed to take the steps he was required to take to have the document lodged with the court.

These ‘steps required’ are not further defined under EU law and hence rest with national law. Under relevant English law, Williams J held that the husband was aware of the wife’s petition before it was validly served on him, and that this was enough for the English courts to have been validly seized.

Geert.

Disciplining forum shopping not a relevant consideration under Brussels IIa. CJEU in Child & Family Agency v J.D.

I reported earlier on the AG’s Opinion in C‑428/15, Child and Family Agency. The Court held late October. It first of all confirms earlier case-law relating to the interpretation of the notion ‘civil matters’, with reference to the need for autonomous interpretation. ‘Civil matters’ may include adoption of child protection measures, including cases where those measures are considered, under the domestic law of a Member State, to be governed by public law (at 32).

More fundamentally, the question of forum non conveniens. Article 15(1) of Regulation No 2201/2003 provides that the courts of a Member State having jurisdiction as to the substance of a case may request the transfer of that case, or a specific part thereof, to a court of another Member State with which the child has a particular connection, if they consider that that court is better placed to hear the case, and where the transfer is in the best interests of the child. Article 15(3) lists exhaustively the factors that can be taken into account in this respect.

Not surprisingly of course the CJEU puts the interests of the child at the core of its analysis. The criterion of proximity (leading to the principal jurisdiction for the courts of the habitual residence of the child) can only be set aside if there are facts-specific considerations that to do so is in the better interest of the child.

Article 15(3) being an exhaustive list, the Court is not willing to consider any other consideration: the impact of the referral on the free movement rights of others, in particular the parents, can not be of any relevance, lest such impact in turn has an impact on the free movement of the child itself. Moreover, the concern of the Irish court that referred, namely that a transfer of children from the UK to Ireland (following the parent’s exercise of her freedom of movement), thus amending their habitual residence, may be an abusive form of forum shopping, cannot be a relevant consideration.

Geert.

Forum non conveniens and Brussels IIa. Wathelet AG in Child and Family Agency v J.D.

Update November 2016 the Court held end of October.

I have included Article 15 of the Brussels IIa or IIbis Regulation, 2201/2003, in full below. It allows a court to relinquish a case to another court, if that is in the best interest of the child. I once referred to it in an exam, asking students to discuss Zwiefka MEP’s proposal at the time to introduce an Article 15-type exception in what is now the Brussels I Recast Regulation. Those discussions in the meantime have led in particular to Articles 33-34 of the Recast, on lis alibi pendens with courts in third States and the potential for EU courts to relinquish their jurisdiction.

The question I asked students was how they would rate Article 15 (which incidentally does not require the case to be pending in the alternative court to which the case is being deferred) against classic forum non conveniens provisions. The point being that the former puts courts very much in a straightjacket, which the CJEU was bound to have to untangle. That is exactly what is at stake in C-428/15 Child and Family Agency v JD in which Wathelet AG opined Mid June.

Agne Limante has full listing of the AG’s arguments in CJEL,  I should like to add that the Irish courts were particularly concerned with forum shopping: at 22:

In that regard, it (the referring court, GAvC) considers that the settling in Ireland of United Kingdom nationals who wish to conceal their children from the competent child protection authorities must not be encouraged and, more broadly, that opportunities for forum shopping must not be created or tolerated. However, it asks to what extent such considerations may be taken into account in the implementation of Article 15 of Regulation No 2201/2003.

Interesting case and ditto Opinion.

Geert.

Article 15

Transfer to a court better placed to hear the case

1. By way of exception, the courts of a Member State having jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter may, if they consider that a court of another Member State, with which the child has a particular connection, would be better placed to hear the case, or a specific part thereof, and where this is in the best interests of the child:

(a) stay the case or the part thereof in question and invite the parties to introduce a request before the court of that other Member State in accordance with paragraph 4; or

(b) request a court of another Member State to assume jurisdiction in accordance with paragraph 5.

2. Paragraph 1 shall apply:

(a) upon application from a party; or

(b) of the court’s own motion; or

(c) upon application from a court of another Member State with which the child has a particular connection, in accordance with paragraph 3.

A transfer made of the court’s own motion or by application of a court of another Member State must be accepted by at least one of the parties.

3. The child shall be considered to have a particular connection to a Member State as mentioned in paragraph 1, if that Member State:

(a) has become the habitual residence of the child after the court referred to in paragraph 1 was seised; or

(b) is the former habitual residence of the child; or

(c) is the place of the child’s nationality; or

(d) is the habitual residence of a holder of parental responsibility; or

(e) is the place where property of the child is located and the case concerns measures for the protection of the child relating to the administration, conservation or disposal of this property.

4. The court of the Member State having jurisdiction as to the substance of the matter shall set a time limit by which the courts of that other Member State shall be seised in accordance with paragraph 1.

If the courts are not seised by that time, the court which has been seised shall continue to exercise jurisdiction in accordance with Articles 8 to 14.

5. The courts of that other Member State may, where due to the specific circumstances of the case, this is in the best interests of the child, accept jurisdiction within six weeks of their seisure in accordance with paragraph 1(a) or 1(b). In this case, the court first seised shall decline jurisdiction. Otherwise, the court first seised shall continue to exercise jurisdiction in accordance with Articles 8 to 14.

6. The courts shall cooperate for the purposes of this Article, either directly or through the central authorities designated pursuant to Article 53.

Regulation adopted on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters – This is important, folks!

Agreed, not a formidably appealing title for either a Regulation or a blog post. However the subject-matter really is important, as is its significance for EU private international law. On 31 May, Council adopted the Regulation on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters. The Regulation applies to protection measures ordered with a view to protecting a person where there exist serious grounds for considering that that person’s life, physical or psychological integrity, personal liberty, security or sexual integrity is at risk, for example so as to prevent any form of gender-based violence or violence in close relationships such as physical violence, harassment, sexual aggression, stalking, intimidation or other forms of indirect coercion.

Decisions taken under the Brussels IIa Regulation (Regulation 2201/2003) continue to be recognised and enforced under that Regulation, which concerns jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in matrimonial matters and the matters of parental responsibility.

Unlike in other areas of judicial cooperation, the Regulation applies to decisions of both judicial authorities and administrative authorities provided that the latter offer guarantees with regard, in particular, to their impartiality and to the right of the parties to judicial review. Police authorities cannot however be considered as issuing authorities within the meaning of the Regulation.

The Regulation deals only with the recognition of the obligation imposed by the protection measure. It does not regulate the procedures for implementation or enforcement of the protection measure, nor any potential sanctions that might be imposed if the obligation ordered by the protection measure is infringed in the Member State addressed.

The UK and Ireland do, Denmark does not take part in the Regulation.

The adoption of the Regulation seems quite relevant to me – an instrument truly designed to assist in creating ‘An open and secure Europe serving the citisen’, as the Stockholm program has it.

Geert.