(Family Division, Bodey J, 16 May 2013)
When the parents separated the mother and three children, twins aged 13 and an 11-year old, were living in Ireland while the father lived in England. When the mother and children visited England for a wedding the father refused to consent to their return, prompting the mother to issue Hague Convention proceedings. In taking into account the children's strong objections to a return the judge ordered the father to return them to Ireland on a specified date. The father was refused permission to appeal.
When the children were not returned the judge once again ordered a return, in the absence of the parents making alternative arrangements. The father proposed that the mother should collect the children from Stansted but she refused. Two days prior to the return date the father sent the mother's solicitors tickets for the children's return albeit 4 days later than the date ordered and with provision for the mother to collect the children from Stansted. The return did not take place.
The case returned to court and a collection order was made but when the tipstaff attempted to execute the order the children refused and efforts were abandoned. A meeting between the children and the guardian was convened during which the children reiterated their objections. The collection order was stayed pending the mother's further consideration of means of enforcement.
Contact took place between the mother and children but the father failed to bring the children to court as he was required to do. They stay of the collection order was lifted but the children could not be located. The father was arrested for contempt.
It was inconceivable that the father did not know where the children were. In failing to inform the court where they were, he was in contempt. Given the severity of the need for the court to be able to trace the children, the least sentence appropriate was 6 months' imprisonment.