Court of Appeal upholds order for children's return to France

Irish father refused to send children back to mother in objection to mask-wearing in school

 Students wear masks at a school  in Budapest, Hungary. File Photograph: Zsolt Szigetvary/EPA

Students wear masks at a school in Budapest, Hungary. File Photograph: Zsolt Szigetvary/EPA

 

Two children whose return to their mother was opposed by their Irish-based father because of the mandatory wearing of masks in French schools must be returned to France, the Court of Appeal has ordered.

Both children were born in France, where they normally reside.

After their parents’relationship broke down, their father returned to Ireland. Last year, when the children, who are both attending primary school in France, were visiting their father in Ireland, he decided he would not return them to France.

This was due to his concerns about one of the children having to wear a face covering in school, as part of efforts announced in France in October 2020 to counter the Covid-19 pandemic.

While the father did not want the children to remain in Ireland permanently, he argued the requirement to wear masks would adversely affect his child and result in the child suffering anxiety and distress.

Arising out of the refusal to allow them return to France, the children’s mother, through the French courts, applied for orders under the International Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Abduction, the Hague Convention.

In a judgment earlier this year, the High Court’s Ms Justice Mary Rose Gearty ruled the children were wrongfully detained and should be returned to France forthwith. That decision was appealed by the father, who sought a stay on the return until the order requiring French children aged six years and older to wear masks at school had been lifted.

The three judge Court of Appeal, comprising Ms Justice Mary Faherty, Mr Justice Maurice Collins and Ms Justice Teresa Pilkington dismissed the appeal.

Giving the court’s judgment, Mr Justice Collins said the evidence before the court fell very significantly short of establishing any grave risk or harm to the child over mask wearing.

There was no plausible or meaningful evidence the mask requirement will have any adverse impact on the child, he said. It was not in dispute the proof required for an order for the childrens’ return under Article 12 of the Hague Convention had been satisfied, he also said.