The Office of the Head of International Family Justice is grateful for its invitation from Jordans and the ICLIP editorial team to start blogging. Since its creation in 2005, The Office has functioned as a centre of expertise and a help desk for general enquiries in the field of international family law for the judiciary and practitioners in England & Wales and overseas. Its purpose is to support cross border judicial collaboration and to enhance the expertise necessary for handling the large number of cases relating to aspects of private international law.
A Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, writing in 2011, could not have been more right when he stated: "Gone are the days when family lawyers had the luxury of being able to focus exclusively on domestic law. The increasing geographical mobility of families, the rise in the numbers of international marriages, and the resultant growth in cases with an international dimension, have all made it vital for family law practitioners to understand the complexities involved in dealing with cross-jurisdictional cases." We hope that this blog is of assistance to practitioners in England & Wales and abroad in their engagement with the increasingly trans-national nature of the issues arising in family law and practice.
The vast majority of the Office's work is connected with facilitating judicial liaison, the formal process by which judges of different jurisdictions communicate with each other to assist in mutual understanding of a case. Practitioners are encouraged to contact the Office to establish whether it might be relevant to their case. Since its first reported appearance in an English family case nearly 15 years ago, Re HB (abduction: children's objections to return  1 FCR 398, judicial liaison is now firmly established as a key mechanism to assist practitioners and judges in resolving cases with an international angle in the best interests of children and of justice in general. Baker J, in HSE Ireland v SF (A Minor)  EWHC 1640 (Fam), stated that in the context of facilitating the making and enforcement of orders for the welfare of children, "Judicial cooperation is not only encouraged but essential".
Practitioners should also be aware that its availability can be a factor in judicial decision making. In Re W (Children) (Relocation: Permission)  2 FLR 409 for example, Sir Nicholas Wall P in the Court of Appeal felt that the availability of liaison judges was of relevance in the case before him when considering the balancing exercise to be carried out in relation to assessing whether a relocation application should have been granted or not: "Equally, in these days of instant communication and liaison judges, I have more confidence than the judge (he expressed none) that neither court would sit idly by and allow the relationship to wither."
- No blog on international family law issues would be complete without mentioning the UK's ratification of the 1996 Hague Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children. The 1996 Convention will come into force on 1 November 2012. Family Law will be publishing a ‘Guide to the convention' in its December 2012 issue. The introduction will be written by Lord Justice Thorpe.
- From 1 August 2012 - 23 October 2012, the Office has dealt with 41 requests for assistance, not including those made pursuant to the UK-Pakistan Judicial Protocol. The majority of these requests have centred around assistance relating to the following jurisdictions: Spain, Cameroon, Kenya, Northern Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, USA, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil and Guyana.
- Lord Justice Thorpe attended the Third International Family Justice Judicial Conference for Common Law and Commonwealth States in Hong Kong SAR. A summary of the conclusions and recommendations of that conference can be found in the November 2012 issue of the International Family Law Journal  IFL 367-478.
- Lord Justice Thorpe and Edward Bennett attended the 9th Anglophone-Germanophone Standing Judicial Conference on International Family Law in Thun, Switzerland. Participants included the Swiss Minister of Justice and President of the Federal Supreme Court. As part of its ‘Chair summaries and conclusions', the Conference highlighted three issues:
(i) In the framework of the 1980 Hague Convention, the return remedy is not effective unless it is swift. The Conference observes the worldwide tendency towards longer return proceedings with concern.
(ii) In the case of lawful temporary international relocation the participants observe the need for clarification, in particular in relation to the legal consequences (especially habitual residence, the question of continuing international jurisdiction and the application of the Hague Child Abduction Convention).
(iii) The participants regret the economic restrictions which have been observed in the field of mediation procedures. In particular legal aid should be available at the least in international child issues.
Crown Copyright material is reproduced with kind permission of the Controller of Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
The views expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Head of International Family Justice for England & Wales or the Judicial Office of England & Wales.
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