Father awarded €32,000 at court of human rights


AN IRISH father has been awarded €32,000 against Hungary by the European Court of Human Rights for its failure to enforce the return of his child from Hungary to France, where they lived, following the parents’ divorce.

Leslie Shaw and his ex-wife had joint custody of their daughter, who was taken to Hungary by her Hungarian mother in December 2007. They did not return.

In May 2008, a court in Pest, Hungary, ordered the return of the child under the Hague Convention on Child Abduction. Both the regional court and the Supreme Court in Hungary upheld this decision. On two occasions, in October and November 2008, the local bailiff called unsuccessfully on the mother to comply voluntarily with the court’s order.

Meanwhile, in France, a court in Paris had issued a European arrest warrant for the mother for the offence of change of custody of a minor. On July 27th, 2009, she was arrested in Hungary. However, on July 28th she was released by the Budapest regional court, which refused to enforce the arrest warrant, on the basis that similar proceedings against her were before a Hungarian court.

On July 29th, the mother and child disappeared from where they were staying in Hungary. Various attempts by the authorities to locate her failed. In France, Mr Shaw had obtained exclusive custody of his daughter.

He complained to the European Court of Human Rights that the Hungarian state had violated his rights under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, upholding private and family life, by failing to take timely and adequate measures for him to be reunited with his daughter.

He also made a complaint to the European Commission claiming a violation of his rights under EU law. These are still pending.

In his case before the Strasbourg court, Mr Shaw stressed his concerns for his daughter, as she had been taken out of school and had had no medical care.

The Hungarian government said the authorities must carefully enforce such court orders in a way that was in the best interests of the child, when taking her out of her usual environment. They said they had done everything to ensure the child’s return to her habitual place of residence, but the absconding of the mother with the child temporarily prevented the authorities from taking further measures.

In its judgment, the court noted that 31 weeks had elapsed since the first claim before the Hungarian courts and their final decision, contrary to obligations under the Hague Convention to issue a judgment within six weeks.

That alone amounted to a violation of the Hungarian state’s obligations under the convention.

It found the authorities also failed to take adequate and effective measures to enforce the return order before July 29th, 2009, almost 11 months after the delivery of the final enforceable judgment. When the mother was arrested on July 27th, no attempt was made to enforce the return order that day. It pointed out that at this stage, reports on the child stated she still had emotional ties to her father and to France.

Finding that the Hungarian state had violated Mr Shaw’s rights to family life, the court ordered the payment of €20,000 for the anguish and distress he suffered as a result of the insufficient measures taken by the Hungarian authorities and awarded €12,000 for legal and related expenses.