When a child is taken away from one parent by the other against a ruling of the Family Court, the consequences can be severe for anyone who withholds information as to the child’s whereabouts, as a recent case illustrates.
Following the break-up of his parents’ relationship, a child lived with his Polish mother in Poland. The couple had been married in the UK and the father was British, of Pakistani descent.
Following a visit to Poland to see his son, the father abducted him and was thought to have returned with him to England.
The mother obtained a ‘collection order’, which is a notice that can be served on a person who the Court has reason to believe can assist it in ascertaining the whereabouts of a child. It requires the person served (among other things) to inform the office of the Court ‘of the whereabouts of the child, and of the place at which the child resides within England and Wales if such is known to them’ and ‘all matters within their knowledge or understanding which might reasonably assist…in locating the child…’.
Failing to comply with a collection order constitutes contempt of court and can be punishable by imprisonment or a fine. When a collection order was served on the boy’s uncle, he failed to comply with it and was held in custody for 13 days.
The evidence against his claim that he knew nothing about the whereabouts of his brother or nephew was that he had exchanged emails with his brother after the abduction.
He was eventually released on a technicality – the order was deemed not to have been properly served because it failed to display a prominent notice on the front page that disobeying it would constitute contempt of court and could lead to imprisonment.