High Court Exercises Inherent Power to Order Children's Return to England

Many families have one foot in the UK and another abroad and that can give rise to parental disagreement as to where their children should live. Wherever in the world British children may be, however, family judges in this country have an inherent power to make decisions as to where their best interests lie.

The point was made by a case concerning two teenagers who were born in the UK but who had dual British and Pakistani nationality. They had for several years been living with relatives in Pakistan, whilst their parents remained in England. Following the acrimonious breakdown of the marriage, the mother obtained orders protecting the children against the risk of forced marriage in Pakistan. She sought further orders requiring their return to Britain.

Due in part to the length of time they had spent in Pakistan, the children had become habitually resident there. They remained British citizens, however, and the High Court ruled that there were compelling reasons why it should exercise its inherent power to step into their parents' shoes and take responsibility for their welfare by directing their return to this country.

The Court broadly accepted the mother's evidence that the father had exerted control over her and the children during the marriage. It found that the original plan was that the children would stay in Pakistan only temporarily whilst the younger child underwent a religious form of education that she had now completed. Both children had recently expressed their wish to return to the UK.

There were worries about the state of health of their primary carer in Pakistan, their grandmother, and the Court expressed deep concern about Instagram messages posted by the younger child which referred to the possibility of suicide. The Court ordered the father to bear the costs of returning the children to England and the period of COVID-19 quarantine that they would have to undergo. Directions were given for a further hearing within 48 hours of their arrival in England.