Friday, 26 April 2013

In with the in-crowd: the Hague Abduction Convention gang grows...

My first blog, way back in January (so long ago…) was on Japan’s ratification of the 1980 Hague Abduction Convention.  After some considerable delay and a change of government, it appeared that that ratification was back on track.  Japan’s Foreign Minister announced his government’s commitment to taking steps, and promptly, to sign the Hague Abduction Convention.

It wasn’t all empty rhetoric either.  We know that, because Japan’s Lower House unanimously approved ratification of the Convention on Tuesday.  The Lower House will now consider draft legislation about how the Convention will work locally.

The ratification and draft legislation will then go before the Diet, Japan’s parliament, in late May.  Under Japan’s Constitution, a treaty approved by the Lower House will receive Diet approval if the Upper House does not vote on it within thirty days.

Japan is the only nation among the Group of Eight yet to join the Convention club, which has 89 signatories as at today’s date.

It might have more soon …

Hot on the heels of the Japanese development comes a commitment from Pakistan’s parliament to look at implementing the Convention there.  Earlier this week, Pakistan’s interim law minister, Ahmer Bilal Soofi, said this:

“My ministry will examine it.  We genuinely believe that this convention should be adopted.” 

This statement of intent was made in a speech given at a consultation organised by the charity Struggle for Change, in collaboration with the British High Commission.  In attendance were officials from the diplomatic community, government ministries, police department, as well as legal experts and human rights activists.

Attendees were told that there were 40 child abduction cases between the UK and Pakistan in 2012.  Significant child abduction traffic was also reported involving the USA, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands.  Unsurprisingly, the most traffic was between countries with significant expatriate Pakistani communities.

Pakistan’s Human Rights Secretary, Shaigan Sharif Malik, likewise committed his ministry to doing the necessaries, and quickly: 

“I give my word that we will be ratifying this Convention soon.  This is an issue regarding children’s rights, something that we are serious about.”

Three working groups focusing on mediation, challenges and implementation, respectively, have now been formed to draft recommendations that will be forwarded to the relevant authorities for effective implementation of the Convention in Pakistan, once ratified.

Although Pakistan is not currently a member of the Hague Abduction Convention club, it has a bilateral arrangement with the UK in the form of a Protocol.  The Protocol was concluded in January 2003, and has been revisited twice since, in September 2003 and February 2006.

The Protocol is primarily concerned with child abduction cases, but cases that involve the crossborder recognition of orders as to custody and access also fall within the “spirit”, if not the letter, of the agreement.

In terms of practical operation, the Protocol looks to appoint liaison judges in the two jurisdictions; in England and Wales, the liaison judge is Lord Justice Thorpe.  The liaison judges are intended to work together to advance the objects of the Protocol.

But the Protocol does not (and cannot) change the underlying legal mechanisms for resolving child abduction cases between the two countries.  It is at best mood music, playing in the background and seeking to inform and influence, rather than dictate, the approach to be taken in cross-border custody disputes between the two countries.

Not so the Convention:  the Convention introduces a presumption that, save in limited circumstances, the unlawful taking or retention of a child across international boundaries is harmful to his or her welfare.  The Convention introduces a default legal response in such situations, of returning children to the country from where they were taken.

Here’s hoping that Pakistan follow the Japanese lead, and make good on the commitment to ratify the Convention in the very near future.  The more members of the club there are, the better the global response to the peccancy that is parental child abduction.

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