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Re P and O (Child Abduction: Anticipatory Breach) [2016] EWHC 3535 (Fam)

An unsuccessful application under the Hague Convention 1980 seeking an order for the summary return of two children to Australia. The court found that the children were habitually resident in the UK at the date on which the children were allegedly 'wrongfully retained' and the Convention did not apply. The father's application therefore failed.

The case concerned two young children, born in Australia. With the father's consent, the mother brought the children to England for 8 weeks in May 2015. The father agreed to extending the trip but the mother failed to return with the children at the due time. In July 2016, the father issued proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction ('the Convention') for the summary return of the children to Australia. The application was opposed by the mother.

Background
The parties' marriage had not been happy and had involved periods of separation and the mother had made allegations of domestic abuse, which the father denied. On their arrival in England in May 2015, the mother and children went to live with the maternal grandmother in Devon; they have lived there continuously since that time. As the removal was with the father's consent it was not a wrongful removal under the Convention. The children entered England on visitor's visas which were valid for 6 months. The mother is a British Citizen.

The unit where the family lived in Australia is owned by the parties in joint names and has been let to tenants since the mother came to England. In June 2015, the father sent an email to the mother which he admitted, in evidence, read as an invitation to remain in England for as long as she wished. There was further email correspondence between the parties in which the length of the mother's stay in England with the children was discussed further. The mother terminated her employment in Australia and searched for work in England. She enrolled the children at a local pre-school.

Without the father's knowledge or consent, the mother applied for British Citizenship for the children which was granted in February 2016. Communications between the parties were inconsistent, with the father attempting to find out when the mother would return to Australia.

Application of the law
The mother conceded that if the Convention applied then the children had been wrongfully retained in England. The date of that wrongful retention was disputed by the parties. The father sought to satisfy the court that an anticipatory breach of an agreement could amount to a wrongful retention under Article 12 of the Convention.

The court considered the children's certificates of registration under the British Nationality Act 1981, s3(2) and concluded that the Home Office had not been required to exercise a discretion in approving the children's applications and therefore any misleading or inaccurate information provided would not have affected the decision to approve the applications.

Having considered the parties' conduct and their email exchanges, His Honour Judge Bellamy determined that the wrongful retention of the children had begun on 28th June 2016.

As to habitual residence, the mother claimed that the children had acquired habitual residence in the UK. If this was right then, under Article 13 of the Convention, the father's application would fail as the Convention would only apply if the children were habitually resident in Australia.

The judge found that by 28th June 2016 the children were habitually resident in the UK and had not therefore been wrongfully retained. Thus, the Convention did not apply and the father's application was dismissed.

Summary by Sara Hunton, barrister, Field Court Chambers

_________________________

Neutral Citation No: [2016] EWHC 3535 (Fam)
Case No. FD16PO0489

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE
FAMILY DIVISION

Date: 10th November 2016
Before His Honour Judge Clifford Bellamy
sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge

Re P and O (Child Abduction: Anticipatory Breach)

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Jaqueline Renton for the applicant father
Michael Gration for the respondent mother

 

This judgment was delivered in private. The judge has given leave for it to be reported on the strict understanding that (irrespective of what is contained in the judgment) in any report no person other than the advocates or the solicitors instructing them and any other persons identified by name in the judgment itself may be identified by name or location and that in particular the anonymity of the children and the adult members of their families must be strictly preserved.

Judge Bellamy:
1. I am concerned with two children, P aged 4 and O aged 2. Their parents are JC ('the mother') and BC ('the father'). The children were born in Australia. On 4th May 2015, with the father's consent, the mother brought the children to England. It had originally been intended that the children and their mother would remain in England for eight weeks. The father agreed to the stay being extended. At the end of the agreed extension the mother and the children remained in England. On 27th July 2016 the father began proceedings under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction ('the Convention') seeking an order for the summary return of the children to Australia. The mother opposes his application.

Background history
2. The mother is a health care professional. She is aged 37. She was born in Canada. Her family moved to England when she was aged 4. She spent her school years living in Devon.

3. The father is a self-employed landscaper. He is aged almost 37. He was born in Australia and has lived in Australia all his life.

4. In 2008 the mother moved to live and work in Australia. She met the father in 2009. Their relationship began in March 2010. They were married in November 2010. The mother found work. She had periods of maternity leave before and after the birth of P and O.

5. In November 2014 the mother obtained Australian citizenship. It is clear that by then the parents' relationship was in difficulties. They separated on 14th December 2014. The father agreed to move out of the family home. Without consulting the mother, the father moved back into the house for a few days over the Christmas period. He stayed in the garage. He left again after Christmas.

6. In evidence the father said that he had been fully involved in caring for the children. Child care had been shared, 'absolutely shared'. Although the mother did not accept that the children's care had been 'absolutely shared' she did accept that the father loves the children and that he had had regular contact with them in Australia after their separation.

7. The mother says that during their relationship she was the victim of domestic abuse. The father denies that he abused her. They sought counselling from a psychologist. They also attended mediation with a view to trying to agree the arrangements for the children.

8. The mother was on maternity leave at the time of the separation. She told the father that she wanted to make a trip to England before returning to work. She told him that she was prepared to make an application to the court for permission for the temporary removal of the children. The father acknowledges that the mother was homesick. He consulted a solicitor. Initially he said that he wanted the mother to provide financial security in the form of a bond. The mother could not afford to do so. The father relented. He agreed to the mother and the children travelling to England for an eight week visit.

9. The mother's removal of the children from Australia was with the consent of the father. It is accepted that it was not a wrongful removal within the meaning of the Convention.

10. The mother left Australia on 4th May 2015 and arrived in England the next day. She and the children went to live with maternal grandmother at her home in Devon. They have lived there continuously since that date.

11. When she left Australia the mother left behind many of the children's clothes and toys and other belongings as well as many of her own clothes. She has since arranged for them to be packed up and put into store.

12. The unit where the family lived is owned by the parents in their joint names. Since the mother left Australia the property has been let out to tenants. The father accepts that if the mother and the children were to return to Australia steps would need to be taken to evict the tenants. He agrees that the mother and the children can remain in England for a couple of months whilst possession is obtained. There is no evidence before the court about the steps the mother would need to take to obtain possession and how long those steps would take.

13. Although since their separation the relationship between the parents has been tense, they have remained in contact by e-mail. On 17th June 2015 the father sent an e-mail to the mother, apparently in response to the mother having sent some photographs of the children. It is a significant e-mail. The father wrote:

'Thank you very much. They look very happy over there, you're a great mum. Your doing a wonderful job with the kids. Do you think you'd like to stay over there to live for a few years with your mum or stay there for good? What are your thoughts on this? The Dream here is finished, marriage over, do you think we can ever be friends & discuss how to co-parent the kids? Or would you rather be there only input/main guidance & keep it more simple less confusing for them & have me step away for good. I feel sick writing this, but you said yourself you had good memories growing up in Devon. We all deserve happiness.'

14. In his evidence the father accepted that that e-mail reads like an invitation to the mother to remain in England for as long as she wished. He agreed that the mother could reasonably have construed it as such. He said that he had written in this way in order to open up communication with the mother.

15. The father agreed to give the mother time to think about his e-mail. On 23rd June she replied in these terms:

'Thank you for giving me the time to think about your e-mail. I appreciate that. You asked me a number of questions which I felt were derived from having time and space away from me as it offered a chance to reflect on the current situation with no distraction. In line with your thinking I have decided to extend my time here and improve my qualifications. The time away will give time and space between us and let us get on with our lives. Just for the moment if there is anything you would like to discuss could you e mail me please.'

16. Initially the father indicated that he was prepared to agree to an extension of one month. However, on 28th June he sent another e-mail in which he wrote,

'For the happiness of yourself & the children & for moving on with our lives I am in agreement that u n the children stay in the UK for a year.'

In his evidence he said that the happiness of his children was more important to him than them returning to Australia.

17. It is unclear from the wording of that e-mail whether the year was to run from the date of the mother's departure from Australia or from the date of the e-mail. The father himself seemed uncertain about when the 12 month period began. In an e-mail sent on 5th July 2015 he asked a number of questions including:

'And regarding your return date will that be a year from now or in 10 months time?

Have you re-booked the ticket?

Are the kids aloud to be there for that period of time as Australian residents without a visa?

The mother didn't answer the father's questions. In seven further e-mails sent to the mother over the course of the next three months, the father repeatedly asked about her return date. That question was never answered.

18. Notwithstanding the mother's failure to answer the father's questions, in an e-mail sent on 4th November the father appeared to reaffirm his acceptance of the children remaining in England long term. He said,

'…I do very much want you to be happy as your happiness is important for the kids happiness. I want to talk to you one day when you feel ready enough, about our future and the future of our children maybe. Maybe in the new year. I may possibly move to new zealand to live…If you want to stay in england…well I will look into coming over there somehow…'

19. The father says that his reference to moving to live in New Zealand was just a 'fleeting comment'. It was not a serious indication. That said, the father disclosed that he is now in a relationship with a New Zealander. They are living together. His partner is expecting their first child in 2017.

20. Following receipt of the father's e-mail indication that he agreed to the children remaining in England for a year, the mother gave notice to terminate her employment in Australia. In September she began looking for work in England. She attended her first interview in November. The father agreed that it had been reasonable for her to look for work. Although he was paying child maintenance of A$121 per month, he accepted that the mother needs to work to support herself and the children.

21. In September the mother enrolled P at a local pre-school. The father accepts that given that the children were to remain in England for a year it was appropriate for her to have done so.

22. The children had entered England on a visitor's visa. The visa remained valid for six months. Given that the father had agreed to the mother and the children remaining in England for twelve months steps needed to be taken to ensure that the children remained in the UK legally. The father knew that that was the position. What he did not know, because the mother did not tell him, was that having taken legal advice she proposed to apply for British citizenship for the children. As a result, the father remained completely unaware that that application had been made. The mother was open with the authorities concerning the father's identity and his whereabouts.

23. The mother has produced a copy of a letter written by her solicitors in support of the children's application for citizenship. The letter contains the following passages:

'In this case, the applicants arrived with their mother on Visitor's visas following her return to the UK from Australia. They arrived at London Heathrow on the 5th May and thus it is that these applicant's Visitor's visas expired on 5th November.

[The mother] has returned to her native Devon following the acrimonious breakdown of her marriage to her husband in Australia. Police officers in New South Wales have been called on a number of occasions because [the father] had become domestically aggressive because he aggressively took the applicant (P) without informing the mother when she would be returned home. This took place in the presence of the applicants on at least three occasions. She no longer felt safe there and ultimately, she taking advice from such as Dr M (see report in evidence), was effectively forced not to return to Australia in order to safeguard herself and her children.

[The mother] was advised not to return to Australia….

It cannot be in doubt that the children's centre of life is, and will be, in the UK…'

24. Along with that letter the solicitor also submitted five additional letters of support. One of the letters was written by the psychologist who had provided counselling for the parents whilst they were in Australia. He ended his letter by saying that in his opinion, it is in the children's best interests that they be allowed to stay with their mother while she is resident in the UK.

25. In January the mother applied for a school place for P. She did not consult the father. Indeed, she did not even inform the father.

26. On 3rd February 2016 the children were granted British citizenship.

27. The father continued to press the mother to indicate the date when she and the children would be returning to Australia. On 11th February 2016 she e-mailed the father saying,

'I do not know what my plans are. Short term I will not be returning in May. What I decide will be based on what is in the best interests of the kids not least you mentioned that you were planning to move to New Zealand. I suggest you continue to make your own plans. I will not base my return to Australia at your demand…'

28. On 14th February the father wrote:

'When do you think you will return? Please explain some of your justifying reasons? I have love for my children and want them in my life. You asked for a year. That year is approaching…'

29. Two days later the father sent another e-mail, his frustration very evident. He wrote,

'do you intend to keep not responding or communicate with me. Other than Skype times. Do I need to start running the process through a solicitor. I really don't want to do that. Are you aware of the Hague Convention (Act). Please respond.'

30. In March the father instructed his solicitor to write to the mother asking whether she planned to return the children to Australia and if so when. In his letter the solicitor said, 'My client believes that you may now be planning to stay indefinitely in the UK…'

31. The mother did not reply until June. She said,

'Thank you for allowing me the time to seek professional advice. In reply to your letter I can confirm that I intend to remain in the UK for the short term,'

32. On 6th April the father tried to contact the mother by telephone. He left a message on her answerphone. The mother produces a transcript. The transcript is not agreed as such though the father accepts that he called the mother and left a message. According to the transcript, the father said,

'I wasn't saying that I was demanding you come back. When you left I wasn't in a good head space and when I said you could stay I was quite depressed. Time is good for all that. In a better head space now. It'd be really good to know if you intend to return to live a life in Australia. I could repeat a million times. I could keep asking are you going to do what you think is best for the kids to stay over there. If you think that's best for me to move over there, if you don't intend to come back…just let me know. Do I need to go through a lawyer to ask that question?

33. The father says that he was very frustrated at the mother's failure to answer his questions. He also said that had the mother replied to his questions by saying that she did not intend to return to Australia then he did not know what he would have done. The father saw his solicitor again in April.

34. It is unclear precisely when it was that the mother decided that she and the children would not return to Australia. The mother was pressed hard by Miss Renton, for the father, to indicate the point at which she had decided that she and the children would remain in England indefinitely. The mother was unable to give a date. It was, she said, a decision that had been made 'over time'. By April she had 'felt we wouldn't be going back'.

35. The father has had some contact with the children by Skype. This has occurred on average around once a month. The children are 10,000 miles away. Seeing and speaking to them but not being able to hold them and cuddle gives rise to strong emotions.  It is clear he has found it difficult to cope with this. He has visited the children in England in August. The father agrees that when he met the mother in August he did not raise with her the issue of her return to Australia.

Wrongful retention – the law
36. So far as is material, Article 3 of the Convention provides that:

'The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where -

a)   it is in breach of rights of custody attributed to a person, an institution or any other body, either jointly or alone, under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and

b)   at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.'

37. Article 4 provides that,

'The Convention shall apply to any child who was habitually resident in a Contracting State immediately before any breach of custody or access rights. The Convention shall cease to apply when the child attains the age of 16 years.'

38. So far as is material, Article 12 provides that,

'Where a child has been wrongfully removed or retained in terms of Article 3 and, at the date of the commencement of the proceedings before the judicial or administrative authority of the Contracting State where the child is, a period of less than one year has elapsed from the date of the wrongful removal or retention, the authority concerned shall order the return of the child forthwith.

The judicial or administrative authority, even where the proceedings have been commenced after the expiration of the period of one year referred to in the preceding paragraph, shall also order the return of the child, unless it is demonstrated that the child is now settled in its new environment.'

39. In this case it is conceded by the mother that if the Convention applies then the children have been wrongfully retained in England. What is not agreed is the date upon which the children were in fact retained. Five possible dates have been canvassed. First, the 4th November 2015 which appears to be the date when the mother's solicitor submitted the children's applications for British citizenship. Second, the 11th February 2016, being the date when the mother informed the father that she would not be returning the children to Australia in May. Third, an unspecified date in April. This relates to the mother's evidence that by April she 'felt we would not be going back'. Fourth, the 4th May 2016, being one year from the date when she and the children left Australia. Fifth, the 28th June 2016, being one year from the date when the father indicated to the mother that he agreed to her remaining in England for twelve months.

40. The father submits that the appropriate date is either the first, second or the third of these alternatives. The mother submits that it is either the fourth or the fifth alternative. The significance of the point is clear. It is the mother's case that by the time the supposed 'wrongful retention' occurred the children were habitually resident in the UK and the Convention is not, therefore, engaged. It is the father's case that the children have not become habitually resident in the UK. The length of the period during which the children were resident in the UK prior to date of the wrongful retention is relevant to (though not determinative of) the issue of whether the children had, in fact, become habitually resident in the UK.

41. In order for the father to be able to satisfy the court that one of the first three alternative dates is the relevant date, he must first satisfy the court that it is possible as a matter of law for an anticipatory breach of an agreement to amount to a wrongful retention for the purposes of Article 12 of the Convention. If he succeeds on that point he must go on to satisfy the court that in the circumstances of this case there has in fact been an anticipatory breach on one of those three dates.

Anticipatory breach – the law
42. In her submissions, Miss Renton undertook a review of the authorities. She began with Re H; Re S (Abduction: Custody Rights [1991] 2 FLR 262. Lord Brandon there makes the point that wrongful removal and wrongful retention are mutually exclusive concepts and that retention 'is not a continuing state of affairs, but an event occurring on a specific occasion' (p.272). That point is not in dispute. It would tend to suggest that in this case the third alternative (April 2016) is not an alternative at all in that the mother does not refer to a specific occasion in April when she 'felt we would not be going back' but rather she says that it was 'by April' she 'felt we would not be going back'. I return to that point later.

43. The next case relied upon is the Court of Appeal decision in Re AZ (A Minor)(Abduction: Acquiescence) [1993] 1 FLR 682. In his judgment, Sir Michael Kerr considered findings made by the trial judge of wrongful retention at two separate points in time. At pages 688 to 689, he said this:-

'Without deciding the point, particularly since it has not been pressed in argument, I am doubtful about the first ground on which the judge relied. It seems to me that the uncommunicated decision which the mother took in her mind in November 1991 not to return the boy on 21 January 1992 could hardly constitute a wrongful retention in November 1991. It was at most an uncommunicated intention to retain him in the future from which she could still have resiled. But on balance I am driven to agree with the judge on the second ground (an application by the grandmother on 19 December 1991 for a prohibited steps order preventing the removal of the child and an interim residence order), which she recognised to be the stronger one, although it seems odd that an otherwise lawful and unconcealed application to the court can constitute a wrongful retention. However, the unusual nature of this act as constituting a wrongful retention appears to me to have some relevance to the question of acquiescence.'

44. Twelve months later, in Re S (Minors)(Child Abduction: Wrongful Retention) [1994] 1 FLR 82, Wall J (as he then was) took a slightly different view. Having initially been doubtful that an anticipatory breach could in law be a wrongful retention, he said this at page 91E and 93:

'I confess that I initially shared the misgivings expressed by Sir Michael Kerr. If a parent pursuant to an agreement that a child may live with him for a given period, fears unilateral action by the other parent, it seems to me very hard to suggest that an application to the court designed to protect the presence of the child for an agreed period constitutes an act of wrongful retention. Thus if the mother in the instant case applied for a prohibited steps and residence orders for the sole purpose of protecting the presence of the children within the jurisdiction until 1 September 1993 (the expiry of the 12 month agreed period of retention), I would find it difficult to find that an act of wrongful retention, alternatively, if it was, that the father had not consented to the retention until 1 September 1992 under article 13(a)…

However, it seems to me that where a parent as here announces as part of her case that she does not intend to return the children to Israel at all, she can no longer herself rely on the father's agreement to the limited period of removal or retention as protecting her under either article 3 or under article 13(a). As Mr Turner puts it, she cannot have the benefit of the agreement without the burden. Equally as an issue of fact, it seems to me that the decision which precedes the announcement, even if not communicated to the father, must be capable itself of constituting an act of wrongful retention.'

45. The first of the three possible dates of wrongful retention in this case appear to relate to an act and not a statement, that act being the submission of the children's application for British citizenship. Miss Renton was very clear that it is not, in fact, the act itself that is relied upon by the father but what she describes as the misleading statements made by the mother's solicitor to the Home Office when submitting the children's applications and the mother's notable failure to consult with the father concerning her intention to submit those applications. Notwithstanding that explanation, Miss Renton relies upon a passage from the judgment of Lord Hughes in Re A (Jurisdiction: Return of Child) [2014] 1 FLR 111, in which he said (§78):

'I agree with Baroness Hale of Richmond that we are not called upon to resolve this question in the present case, which must await another day. I also agree that it is apparent from Art 10 that BIIR contemplates that habitual residence may shift at some stage after a wrongful removal or retention. It may well be that the problem identified can be resolved consistently with the effectiveness of the Hague Child Abduction Convention. It may well be that the correct view is that unilateral acts designed to make permanent the child's stay in State B are properly to be regarded as acts of wrongful retention, notwithstanding that the scheduled end of the child's visit has not yet arrived. Such a conclusion is not, to my mind, in any way precluded by the decision of the House of Lords in Re H; Re S (Minors) (Abduction: Custody Rights) [1991] 2 AC 476, [1991] 2 FLR 262, [1991] 3 WLR 68, which holds no more than that a specific act of retention must be identified, and it is consistent with the decision of Wall J in Re S (Minors) (Abduction: Wrongful Retention)(above).'

46. The 'question' to which Lord Hughes refers at the beginning of that passage is a wholly different question to that with which I am concerned. That 'question' is set out in the judgment of Baroness Hale at §§ 39-40. It is unnecessary for me to set it out. It has no relevance to the issues with which I am concerned. It did not relate to an issue that fell for determination in that case. No doubt it is for that reason that this passage is couched in guarded terms ('it may well be that'). Miss Renton accepts that this passage of Lord Hughes' judgment was obiter. However, leaving those points to one side, this passage raises an interesting question about whether the submission of an application for citizenship in circumstances such as those with which I am concerned can be construed as a unilateral act amounting to a wrongful retention in Convention terms.

47. This point was further considered by the Court of Appeal in Re H (Abduction: Jurisdiction) [2015] 1 FLR 1132. Referring directly to the judgment of Lord Hughes to which I have just referred, Black LJ said this (§30):

'Overall, what to my mind emerges from Lord Hughes of Ombersley's judgment, as from Baroness Hale of Richmond's, is a general disinclination to encumber the factual concept of habitual residence with supplementary rules and in particular to perpetuate the 'rule' with which we are concerned here, provided that an approach can be found which prevents a parent undermining the Hague Convention and the jurisdiction provisions of BIIR. The solution that both Lord Hughes (at para [78]) and Baroness Hale (at para [40]) had in mind, and seemed to think tenable, involved treating the act of wrongful retention of the child as occurring at an earlier stage than might sometimes be assumed, that is to say as soon as the parent engages in unilateral acts designed to make permanent the child's stay in the new country rather than only when the end of the child's scheduled stay there arrives. This would prevent a parent from establishing a habitual residence in the country to which he has abducted the child before the act of wrongful retention occurs.'

48. From these authorities Miss Renton deduces that there is a legal principle of 'anticipatory breach' amounting to wrongful retention and that on the facts of this case there has been an anticipatory breach either on 4th November 2015 or on 11th February 2016 or on an unspecified date in April 2016.

49. For the mother, Mr Gration makes the point that all of the authorities to which I have referred have been comprehensively reviewed recently by Roberts J in BP v DP [2016] EWHC 633 (Fam). Roberts J was also taken to decisions of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and of the Court of Appeal of New Zealand (see her discussion of those cases at §§64 – 68). In that case it was submitted on behalf of the father that the concept of anticipatory breach 'is mere sophistry'. Roberts J agreed. She said (§72):

'Whilst I accept that various dicta in previous authorities, including those referred to by Black LJ in Re H (above), suggest that it may be possible to treat as wrongful an earlier act of retention in order to stop an abducting parent establishing habitual residence as a defence to a Convention application, each case has to be decided on its own facts. In any event, I am not persuaded that those dicta are sufficient to establish any binding legal principle in relation to "anticipatory breach."'

50. I am told that the decision of Roberts J is not being appealed. For my part I am persuaded by her analysis of the relevant authorities that her ultimate conclusion is correct. However, lest I am wrong on that point I nonetheless propose to consider the first three dates contended for by the father on the basis that the circumstances could give rise to an anticipatory breach.

Wrongful retention - discussion
51. It appears that the children's applications for British citizenship were submitted on 4th November 2015. Certificates of registration were granted on 3rd February 2016. The certificates confirm that registration was made pursuant to s.3(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981.

52. Section 3 is headed 'Acquisition by registration: minors'. So far as is material it provides that:

'(1) If while a person is a minor an application is made for his registration as a British citizen, the Secretary of State may, if he thinks fit, cause him to be registered as such a citizen.

(2) A person born outside the United Kingdom and the qualifying territories shall be entitled, on an application for his registration as a British citizen made while he is a minor, to be registered as such a citizen if the requirements specified in subsection (3) or, in the case of a person born stateless, the requirements specified in paragraphs (a) and (b) of that subsection, are fulfilled in the case of either that person's father or his mother ("the parent in question").

(3) The requirements referred to in subsection (2) are—

(a) that the parent in question was a British citizen by descent at the time of the birth; and

(b) that the father or mother of the parent in question—

(i) was a British citizen otherwise than by descent at the time of the birth of the parent in question; or

(ii) became a British citizen otherwise than by descent at commencement, or would have become such a citizen otherwise than by descent at commencement but for his or her death; and

(c) that, as regards some period of three years ending with a date not later than the date of the birth—

(i) the parent in question was in the United Kingdom or a qualifying territory at the beginning of that period; and

(ii) the number of days on which the parent in question was absent from the United Kingdom and the qualifying territories in that period does not exceed 270.'

53. It is clear from the wording of s.3(2) that registration of a child as a British citizen under this section is not a matter for the exercise of discretion but is a matter of a child's entitlement so long as the criteria in s.3(3) are met. The solicitor's letter to the Home Office dated 4th November sets out information clearly designed to persuade and assumes that the person making the decision will be exercising a discretion. As the Home Office was not required to exercise a discretion it follows that any misleading or inaccurate information set out in that letter cannot have had any bearing on the decision of the Home Office to approve the children's applications.

54. Complaint is made that the Home Office failed to consult the father before determining the children's applications. Given that the children were entitled to citizenship if they met the prescribed criteria, it is not clear to me that the father would have had any role to play in the determination of the children's applications unless it were to try to persuade the Home Office that the conditions set out in s.3(3) were not met. On the basis of the information before me the fact that those criteria were in fact met appears to be clearly established.

55. In her skeleton argument, Miss Renton says that,

'7. The court should also be aware that F has written to the UK Home Office to explain that the basis on which M applied for the children to be permitted to remain in this jurisdiction, pursuant to section 3(1) of British Nationality Act 1981 were false and misleading.'

For the reasons set out above I do not accept that to be the case. The application was in any event granted under s.3(2).

56. I do accept that there is some merit in the criticism of the mother that she did not consult the father before submitting the children's applications and that she failed thereafter to inform the father either that the applications had been made or that they had been granted. It was not until these proceedings were in train that the father finally found out about the applications. When asked what she thought the father's response would have been had he been asked for his views before submitting the applications, the mother said she thought he would have objected. Her failure to tell the father of her intention to make those applications coupled with her failure to respond to the father's repeated request to be informed of the date when the children would be returned to Australia give some support for Miss Renton's description of the mother as 'evasive'.

57. However, it was noticeable that for most of the time when the father was giving his evidence the mother kept her head down so that she could not make eye contact with him. It appeared as if she were withdrawing into herself. When her turn came, she clearly found the process of giving evidence extremely difficult. At several points she struggled to hold back her tears. When asked why she had not responded to the father's e-mails she replied that she felt that whatever she had said would not have been accepted by the father and would simply have led to more e-mails or, as she put it, to more harassment. She said, 'he's the one who calls all the shots…he hasn't stopped harassing me…if I had said anything it would have been wrong…'

58. I referred earlier to the letter written by the psychologist who had worked with the parents in Australia, Dr M. The following passage from his letter is relevant on this issue. He wrote,

'From the outset [the mother] was not interested in reconciliation, and quite clearly indicated that she wanted out of the relationship. [The father] was convinced that this was not the case, and refused to accept the notion that "it takes two to tango", and that if one party is determined to end a relationship, there is little that the other party can do. It would be fair to say that the father's non-acceptance of the fact that his wife wanted to separate led to his harassing her, being difficult about child-care and sharing arrangements, and pursuing efforts at reconciliation and mediation.

The joint session showed remarkably clearly [The father's] failure to listen and certainly showed a real inability to hear the message that was being conveyed to him by [the mother]. On the other hand [the mother] heard quite clearly what [the father] had to say and was able to convey what she had heard to him. He is egotistic, almost narcissistic, lacks empathy and as far as the children are concerned has no real idea of developmental needs.'

59. Put in that context, the force of the criticism of the mother's performance in court as evasive is much diminished. I accept that what the father construed as evasiveness may well have been the result of genuine fear of further harassment. If there is a 'binding legal principle in relation to "anticipatory breach"', I do not accept that the circumstances surrounding the children's applications for British citizenship amount to such a breach. As the father well-knew, the children had entered the UK on six-month visitors' visas. To enable them to stay for the year to which the father had agreed, some step had to be taken to enable them lawfully to remain in the UK beyond 5th November. I do not accept that it can properly be said that the mother 'wrongfully retained' the children from 5th November 2015.

60. In passing, it is also appropriate to note that the fact that these children have been registered as British citizens does not affect their status as Australian citizens. The website of the Australian Government's Department of Immigration and Border Protection, addressing the issue of dual citizenship, advises that,

'It is possible to hold citizenship of two or more countries if the law of those countries allow. This is known as dual, or multiple, citizenship.

People can become dual citizens automatically, or after being granted citizenship of another country.

For example, an Australian citizen may automatically gain citizenship of another country through marriage, while a permanent resident of Australia may become a dual citizen by becoming an Australian citizen.

Prior to 4 April 2002, Australian citizens who became citizens of another country lost their Australian citizenship automatically.'

61. The next date contended for as an anticipatory breach giving rise to wrongful retention is 11th February 2016. That was the day on which the mother sent an e-mail to the father saying, 'Short term I will not be returning in May'. I have already noted the uncertainty in the minds of both parents about whether the 12 month stay consented to by the father ran from 4th May 2015 or from 28th June 2015. Miss Renton invites me to conclude that by these words the mother must be taken as indicating that she intends to remain in England with the children indefinitely. Given the uncertainty to which I have just referred, such an interpretation of the mother's words would not, in my judgment, be justified. If there is a 'binding legal principle in relation to "anticipatory breach"', I do not accept that the mother's e-mail of 11th February gives rise to such a breach.

62. The third date contended for by the father is April 2016. He relies on the mother's oral evidence that 'By April I felt we wouldn't be going back'. In contending that that amounts to an anticipatory breach the father faces two problems. First, as I noted earlier, it is settled law that wrongful retention is an event and not a process. A finding that there was a wrongful retention on some unspecified date in April 2016 is, in my judgment, too imprecise. Second, the evidence that by April the mother had come to the conclusion that she would not be going back is evidence that did not emerge until the mother was being cross-examined by Miss Renton. It was a 'feeling' that the mother had not conveyed to the father at the time. Once again I come to the conclusion that if there is a 'binding legal principle in relation to "anticipatory breach"', the evidence does not support a finding that such a breach occurred in or (as the mother put it) 'by' April 2016.

63. Having discounted the three dates proposed by the father as being the date when wrongful retention occurred, I turn now to consider the final two dates – 4th May 2016 or 28th June 2016. On 28th June 2015 the father had sent an e-mail to the mother saying, 'I am in agreement that u n the children stay in the UK for a year'. It is clear from the subsequent e-mails to which I have referred that the father himself was uncertain whether the extension had been until 4th May 2016 or 28th June 2016. So, too, was the mother.

64. The father did not initiate these Hague proceedings until 27th July 2016. Had he been of the firm view that the year expired on 4th May then he could have issued these proceedings two months earlier. He didn't. It is clear from his email of 16th February that he was aware of the Convention. In a letter from the Australian Attorney General's Department to the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit in London ('ICACU'), the Assistant Director of the Australian Central Authority stated in terms that, 'The application provides that the subject children were wrongfully retained in the United Kingdom on or around 28 June 2016 by their mother…'

65. I accept that there is a lack of clarity around this issue. The parents themselves were uncertain about which was the relevant date. In determining the relevant date I am satisfied that I am entitled to look at the parties' conduct as well as their written exchanges. In all the circumstances I am satisfied, on balance, that the year expired on 28th June 2016. Unless by that date the children had acquired habitual residence in the UK, that is the date upon which the wrongful retention of the children began.

Habitual residence – the law
66. In her response to the father's application the mother raises a number of 'defences' under Article 13 of the Convention. However, the first point taken by the mother is that the children are no longer habitually resident in Australia but have now acquired habitual residence in the United Kingdom. If the mother is right on that issue then it is clear that that disposes of the father's application since the Convention only applies if the children are habitually resident in Australia.

67. There is a significant body of jurisprudence on the issue of habitual residence. In Re B (A Minor)(Habitual Residence) [2016] EWHC 2174 (Fam), counsel distilled a number of propositions which, it was contended, can be gleaned from the five Supreme Court judgments, addressing habitual residence, delivered since 2013. Hayden J adopted those propositions with his own amendments. They are set out in §17 as follows:

i) The habitual residence of a child corresponds to the place which reflects some degree of integration by the child in a social and family environment (A v A, adopting the European test).

ii) The test is essentially a factual one which should not be overlaid with legal sub-rules or glosses. It must be emphasised that the factual enquiry must be centred throughout on the circumstances of the child's life that is most likely to illuminate his habitual residence (A v A, Re KL).

iii) In common with the other rules of jurisdiction in Brussels IIR its meaning is 'shaped in the light of the best interests of the child, in particular on the criterion of proximity'. Proximity in this context means 'the practical connection between the child and the country concerned': A v A (para 80(ii)); Re B (para 42) applying Mercredi v Chaffe at para 46).

iv) It is possible for a parent unilaterally to cause a child to change habitual residence by removing the child to another jurisdiction without the consent of the other parent (Re R);

v) A child will usually but not necessarily have the same habitual residence as the parent(s) who care for him or her (Re LC). The younger the child the more likely the proposition, however, this is not to eclipse the fact that the investigation is child focused. It is the child's habitual residence which is in question and, it follows the child's integration which is under consideration.

vi) Parental intention is relevant to the assessment, but not determinative (Re KL, Re R and Re B);

vii) It will be highly unusual for a child to have no habitual residence. Usually a child lose a pre-existing habitual residence at the same time as gaining a new one (Re B); (emphasis added);

viii) In assessing whether a child has lost a pre-existing habitual residence and gained a new one, the court must weigh up the degree of connection which the child had with the state in which he resided before the move (Re B – see in particular the guidance at para 46);

ix) It is the stability of a child's residence as opposed to its permanence which is relevant, though this is qualitative and not quantitative, in the sense that it is the integration of the child into the environment rather than a mere measurement of the time a child spends there (Re R and earlier in Re KL and Mercredi);

x) The relevant question is whether a child has achieved some degree of integration in social and family environment; it is not necessary for a child to be fully integrated before becoming habitually resident (Re R) (emphasis added);

xi) The requisite degree of integration can, in certain circumstances, develop quite quickly (Art 9 of BIIR envisages within 3 months). It is possible to acquire a new habitual residence in a single day (A v A; Re B). In the latter case Lord Wilson referred (para 45) those 'first roots' which represent the requisite degree of integration and which a child will 'probably' put down 'quite quickly' following a move;

xii) Habitual residence was a question of fact focused upon the situation of the child, with the purposes and intentions of the parents being merely among the relevant factors. It was the stability of the residence that was important, not whether it was of a permanent character. There was no requirement that the child should have been resident in the country in question for a particular period of time, let alone that there should be an intention on the part of one or both parents to reside there permanently or indefinitely (Re R).

xiii) The structure of Brussels IIa, and particularly Recital 12 to the Regulation, demonstrates that it is in a child's best interests to have an habitual residence and accordingly that it would be highly unlikely, albeit possible (or, to use the term adopted in certain parts of the judgment, exceptional), for a child to have no habitual residence; As such, "if interpretation of the concept of habitual residence can reasonably yield both a conclusion that a child has an habitual residence and, alternatively, a conclusion that he lacks any habitual residence, the court should adopt the former" (Re B supra).'

It is unnecessary for me to go to the primary sources from which those thirteen propositions are distilled. These propositions are, in my judgment, sufficient to guide my evaluation of the issue relating to habitual residence in this case,

68. With those propositions firmly in mind I turn next to the evidence.

Habitual residence – the evidence
69. In his evidence the father does not deal with the issue of habitual residence in any depth. In his second statement he asserts that 'The children remain habitually resident in Australia having only travelled to England for the purpose of an agreed trip of finite duration.'

70. The mother makes the point that in Australia the father's family includes his own father, Brian, his brother, Mat and his sisters Misty and Vanessa. Only Vanessa has met O. Her evidence does not suggest that the father's family is a particularly close family.

71. The mother sets out a detailed account of the children's lives since they have been living in England. The main points she makes in support of this are that:

(a) the children have lived in the UK for the last 18 months and have become settled;

(b) O has spent more time living in England than he had previously spent living in Australia; given his age the reality is that he knows no other life than living in England with his mother, sister and grandmother;

(c) save for short holidays, throughout their time in England the children have lived with their maternal grandmother; they each have their own bedrooms;

(d) P has been attending a local playschool and is now enrolled to start in the reception class at the local primary school in 2017. A letter from the manager of the pre-school dated 22nd September 2016 says that,

'Since joying (sic) the Pre-School P has settled really well, she has made good friends with the other children and has secure relationships with the adults who care for her. When P comes to pre-School she is happy and confident and articulates well, she joins in with the activities and enjoys learning new challenges. With the friends P has made this will also have fed into her home life as living in a rural community the children will interact together outside of Pre-School.'

(e) the children are registered with a local doctor and a local dentist; the mother says that they are immunised to current UK standards and no longer meet Australian standards;

(f) maternal grandmother, a retired school nurse and a Parish Councillor, supports the children by providing them with a home and financial support and by caring for them when the mother is at work; when P is at school and the mother is at work the grandmother takes O with her to her vegetable garden and to the church tea rooms;

(g) they have close contact with the wider maternal family including the mother's brother and his family who live nearby;

(h) they live in a close-knit community and are close friends with their neighbours;

(i) they are involved with community events; the children recently participated in the Hartland garden show and won prizes for their contributions.

(j) P is soon to start dancing lessons.

72. The mother's evidence on these issues was unchallenged.

73. Though, for the reasons outlined above, the statements submitted to the Home Office in support of the children's application for British citizenship had no relevance to the determination of those applications, they are of some limited relevance to the question of whether the children have become integrated in their social and family environment in England.

74. In a letter dated 21st September 2015, maternal aunt, says that since the children arrived in England,

'they have both been to my house regularly for their tea and also play in my garden. They eat very well and are well mannered. Sometimes both my granddaughters come to tea and play with them. They all get on well. P has settled in the local pre-school. My granddaughter also works there and says P settled in well from the start.'

75. In a letter dated 24th September 2015, FL, who lives in the same village, says that,

'In the few months that P and O have been here I have seen them progress and grow into confident and happy children in a stable and loving environment.'

76. In a letter dated 28th September 2015, a neighbour, NB, said that she has known the mother since she was five years old. Since they arrived in England she has also got to know the children. She says that,

'Both children have settled in very quickly and have enjoyed our beaches and woodland walks all summer. They are both very happy in their surroundings…both children seem very much at home here.'

77. The consequence of all of this, submits the mother, is that the children have become integrated in their social and family environment in England.

78. The father accepted that it was entirely appropriate for the mother to want to make new friends for herself and the children. As I noted earlier, he did not criticise the mother for the steps she had taken though he is critical of her failure to consult him concerning, for example, choice of school. The father accepts that when he visited the children in August 2016 they appeared happy and settled.

Conclusions
79. If I find that the children were habitually resident in the UK at the date upon which the children were allegedly 'wrongfully retained' then it follows that the children were not wrongfully retained at all because in those circumstances the Convention does not apply. It follows, therefore, that if that is my finding there is no need for me to address the question of whether any of the mother's pleaded Article 13 defences are made out.

80. I am satisfied that by 28th June 2016 the children had obtained a sufficient degree of integration in a social and family environment in England for them to have acquired habitual residence here. I am satisfied that the mother, too, had by then obtained habitual residence in England. The children's life in England is stable and secure. I am satisfied that as the months went by the mother gradually came to the conclusion that she and the children should remain in England. She had reached that conclusion by around April though it was not communicated to the father. The reality is that apart from their intermittent contact with their father by Skype, by 28th June 2016 at the latest (and arguably much sooner) the children's connection with Australia was minimal. Their roots in Australia had effectively been pulled up. They had put down new roots in England.

81. The 28th June 2016 is the last of five dates that have been considered as dates upon which wrongful retention occurred. I am mindful of principle (xi) in the list of principles set out by Hayden J in Re B (A Minor)(Habitual Residence). Though it is unnecessary for me to make a finding on the point, on the basis of the evidence before me I consider it to be eminently arguable that these children acquired habitual residence in England much earlier than 28th June. Indeed, I accept that it is arguable that they had already become habitually resident here by the time their application for British citizenship was submitted.

82. Having arrived at the conclusion that by 28th June 2016 the children were habitually resident in the UK it follows that their retention in England beyond that date does not amount to a wrongful retention. The Convention does not apply. The father's application is, therefore, dismissed.