Key U.K. jurist hopeful of Japan’s Hague entry

July 31, 2012


Key U.K. jurist hopeful of Japan’s Hague entry




LONDON — Japan’s plan to sign an international treaty on cross-border parental child abductions has been welcomed by England’s most senior international family law judge.

Lord Justice Sir Mathew Thorpe said recently it is a “positive move” that Japan is going to join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The convention seeks to protect children from the harmful effects of being spirited by an estranged spouse across international boundaries by providing procedures to bring about their prompt return to their home country or country of habitual residence.

Thorpe, who is head of international family justice for England and Wales, said: “The campaign was led by the United States and Canada . . . and I think they will be hugely relieved to see the global law extending into the Far East. It needs it. It’s already in Hong Kong and Singapore.

“It will bring Japan into treaty relationship with 87 other countries, and that enables people to recover to Japan children who have been wrongly removed from Japan by one or other parent.”

Thorpe, whose office deals with legal inquiries, correspondence from judges, lawyers and other officials in the field of international family law, said the convention has been a “huge influence for good” by providing legal remedies where none was previously available.

“It (abduction) is an extraordinarily abusive thing to do to a child. And from the 1960s and 1970s, with the increasing mobility and decreasing price of air travel, you see the emergence of a global problem for which the global community felt bound to seek a solution and the end product is the 1980 convention,” the jurist said.

Thorpe and judges from other signatory countries regularly meet to review how the treaty operates and look at ways to improve both judicial and administrative performances.

The issue of international parental child abductions has been a growing problem in Japan due to the increasing number of international marriages.

The media have reported several cases where Japanese women living in the West, and unhappy in their relationship, have decided to take children to Japan without getting court permission.

Often they make this decision because they believe — often misguidedly — that the court will deny them their application to relocate with their child.

Or they may be relocating to another jurisdiction in the hope that the court in that country will reverse previous custody decisions.

Thorpe describes any act of international parental child abduction as “irresponsible and wrongful behavior” and urges all parents to go through the courts and seek permission before removing their children from the country.

At the moment, because Japan is not part of the convention, non-Japanese parents, many of them fathers in Western countries, have little chance of getting their abducted children returned to their country of habitual residence. And this is why many countries have been pressuring Japan to join.

However, once Japan has signed up to the convention, it will have to set up a “central authority” that will work to locate abducted children and initiate legal proceedings to get them returned.

The central authority will also act as a point of contact for Japanese parents seeking the return of their children abducted by an estranged foreign spouse.

Speaking at his room in the Royal Courts of Justice, Thorpe said: “Japan must have an effective and efficient central authority. That’s the cardinal prerequisite. And they should have concentrated the jurisdiction to deal with Hague cases to a small number of courts at a high level within the justice system. The judges need to be prepared and trained for the work.”

As it stands, the convention is not retroactive, but Thorpe holds out some hope for the British fathers whose children have been abducted.

“At the moment, British fathers are dependent on consular endeavor and the Foreign Office will continue to handle their cases. But once Japan has acceded, maybe there will be a much higher degree of cooperation at a diplomatic level,” he said.

“It would be perverse of the Japanese foreign office not to offer aid in those cases only because the abduction predates Japan’s accession. I would have expected the Japanese foreign office would say, well, they are tantamount to Hague cases and we will give diplomatic aid,” Thorpe said.

“They (Japanese diplomats and academics) have researched Hague exhaustively. Government officials, academics and diplomats have all been carrying out the most profound investigations, talking to judges, central authorities, academics, not just in this country, but in the United States, Canada and Europe. The Japanese could not have prepared the way more painstakingly,” he said.

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