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29 SEP 2014

Suffolk County Council v DL [2014] EWFC 29

Suffolk County Council v DL [2014] EWFC 29
Neutral Citation Number: [2014] EWHC 29 (Fam)
Case No. CM14C05108

Ipswich Family Court
8 Arcade St

Date: Monday, 14th July 2014



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Transcribed by BEVERLEY F. NUNNERY & CO. (a trading name of Opus 2 International Limited) Official Court Reporters and Audio Transcribers One Quality Court, Chancery Lane, London WC2A 1HR Tel: 020 7831 5627 Fax: 020 7831 7737 info@beverleynunnery.com

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MISS C. STARKIE (instructed by Suffolk Legal Services) appeared on behalf of the Applicant
MR. D. WILSON (Solicitor, of David Wilson Solicitors) appeared on behalf of the Respondent
MR D BARRETT (instructed by Haywards Solicitors) appeared on behalf of the Child

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[1] KL was born on 11 May 2014, so she is just coming up to eight weeks old. Her mother is Lithuanian. She has been in this country for six years and is settled here. The father of the baby is not involved and may not have been identified. The mother, sadly, has problems of drug addiction. Mr. Wilson, who represents her, tells me that she is an intelligent lady who understands that she is unlikely to be able to care for her child. Social Services have found her co-operative and also intelligent. K is represented by a guardian. The mother’s parents are in Lithuania and are looking after at least one or perhaps three of their granddaughters by the mother’s sister. The mother’s sister also has some problems.

[2] Initial inquiries about the grandparents through CFAB have been generally positive. There are some questions which require to be answered still. This local authority is looking extremely actively at the possibility of placing this child with her grandparents. If this case were to conclude entirely within these English care proceedings which commenced after K’s birth, this would require a placement outside the jurisdiction to be approved by the court pursuant to Schedule 2, Rule 19 of the Children Act 1989. This is a directions hearing listed before me, the case having previously been heard at the Chelmsford County Court.

[3] It is my duty pursuant to Article 15 of BIIR to consider at all stages whether I should either stay the case and invite the parties to introduce a request before the court of another member state or request a court of another member state to assume jurisdiction. This is an area of the law in which judges and practitioners are on a very steep learning curve. I gave a judgment only two weeks ago, London and Borough of Barking and Dagenham v C and Ors [2014] EWHC 2472 (Fam), following judgments of Baker J in Bristol City Council v AA and Anor [2014] EWHC 1022 (Fam) and Moylan J: Leicester City Council v S [2014] EWHC 1575 (Fam). We are in agreement that delay is a pivotal issue relevant to best interests pursuant to Article 15(1). The Court of Appeal decision in Nottingham City Council v LM & Ors [2014] EWCA Civ 152, held that the questions of best interests and which court is better placed to hear the case are interlinked, and that best interests in Article 15(1) relates to best interests in respect of transfer and not best interests overall.

[4] This little girl, notwithstanding that she is undoubtedly habitually resident here having been born here, and thus has a particular connection with this country but also has a particular connection, self-evidently, with Lithuania, being a Lithuanian citizen and born of a Lithuanian mother, notwithstanding that she is settled here. She also has Lithuanian grandparents who the mother proposes as carers for this child. The mother is presently in prison having been convicted of drug-related offences. She may be just about to be released on a ‘tag’. She has not, at least until now, put herself forward as a carer for this child and strongly supports a Lithuanian option with her parents.

[5] It seems to me, notwithstanding that the local authority is very actively assessing the grandparents, that this is an appropriate time for the Court to consider whether it should exercise its powers to request Lithuania to assume jurisdiction pursuant to Article 15(1)(b). As Baker J in the Bristol case and Moylan J in the Leicester case ruled (and I take the same view) there is no drawback and every advantage in making a request to another member state alongside further assessment of a parent. It seems to me that an assessment or further inquiries of relatives abroad demands the same approach. The aim is to progress the case and to avoid delay. If Lithuania does not wish to assume jurisdiction, which it may not if it takes the view that these proceedings are well advanced and that this local authority is adopting the right approach, then this case, which I shall timetable through to a final hearing, will proceed in this jurisdiction. The options for this baby within our understanding of child welfare, which may not be the same as Lithuania’s, would be either family placement if mother cannot care for her own child, or adoption. Lithuania may regard other options as being appropriate for one of its citizens.

[6] Under Article 56 a local authority contemplating placing a child in institutional care or with a foster family in another member state must first consult the member state through the Central or other authority having jurisdiction in the central authority having jurisdiction in the latter state where public authority intervention is required for domestic cases of child placement.

[7] As in this case, the authorities may not wish to respond to an informal request, but may indicate that they would certainly come before the court if there were any question of adoption in this jurisdiction of one of its nationals. If the case gets to that stage then delay is likely to be advanced and that is not in the interests of this child.

[8] It seems to be– this is anecdotal but nonetheless not to be disregarded – that it is reasonably common for authorities not to respond to the first, informal request through diplomatic routes or channels of communication but that a formal request pursuant to Article 15 is likely to be responded to with considerable expedition.

[9] When conducting a balance sheet analysis of pros and cons of best interests, as seemed to me in the Barking and Dagenham case to be appropriate, the ’con’ in this case is uncertainty as to what the Lithuanian authorities might do. However potential delay is in built into any of the options, and what I must strive to do is to adopt the course which is likely to serve the child’s best interests. Also this Lithuanian child ought in principle to have her future decided by the Lithuanian authorities. However it may be that the answers to the questions which I have approved, which will go by way of addendum to the grandparents through CFAB, may satisfy the local authority, which will set in place an agency decision on the 26th August. This may bring this case to an agreed resolution without the involvement of the Lithuanian authorities.

[10] In reality there are no drawbacks to the making of a request, which is likely to enhance decision making for this little girl rather than to inhibit it. All parties now, having considered the various options, are agreed that I should make a request pursuant to Article 15 (3), list this case before a s.9 judge locally for the first week of September to monitor progress, but set up a contingency plan which timetables this case through to a final hearing if the Lithuanian authorities do not wish to become involved. It cannot be ignored, as I have already said, that they may choose to intervene at a late stage even if they have not chosen to intervene before. I have to adopt a course which is not necessarily a failsafe but which gives the best options available for this little girl.

[11] I am most grateful for the assistance of counsel in an area of law with which I am sure all will very soon become familiar but at the moment requires thought and care and learning from experience.

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