A diplomat's right to abduct children

A diplomat used his immunity to take his children out of UK jurisdiction, and the US Government is backing him, says Roger Pearson

The question of how far diplomatic immunity extends is to be the subject of debate in the Court of Appeal in the context of the Hague Convention rules relating to abduction of children.

The case centres on a US diplomat who has taken his daughters back to the US and who is now accused of breaching a UK High Court order made this July giving his wife custody of the girls.

The diplomat, backed by the US government, claims the courts here have no right to make any rulings in respect of him, and that he had diplomatic immunity at the time he took the children.

The case will provide a signpost ruling in respect of the Hague Convention. The Court of Appeal, which has ordered a full hearing of the matter, has called for the Attorney General to join the proceedings.

While Lord Justice Ward was ordering that there should be an urgent hearing in this country on 13 November, the diplomat was asking judges on the other side of the Atlantic to give him custody of his daughters, aged 10 and 13.

In giving his decision Lord Justice Ward also asked that transcripts of his judgment should be sent to the US to give American judges an indication of the UK courts' thinking.

The Appeal Court was told the father returned to the US with the children despite protests from the children's German mother that they were being taken out of jurisdiction without her consent.

Lord Justice Ward said the father, opposing the mother's moves to have the children returned to the UK, claimed the mother had no right to custody of the girls. The father has been joined in his legal battle by the US government, which claims the UK courts have no jurisdiction to deal with the case.

Christopher Greenwood, for the US government, told the court that the father had been exercising his function as a member of a mission when he took the children.

Lord Justice Ward said it surprised him that a country which was a signatory to the Hague Convention should now be in a position to escape its ordinary operation by claiming immunity.