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President Apologises for Court ‘Blunder’

The president of the Family Division has apologised to a mother and daughter for a court ‘blunder’ which prevented ‘critical information’ coming to light.

Opening his judgment with the words ‘in this case the court has blundered’, Sir James Munby explained how circumstances arose which led to an order being made for a mother to return her seven-year old daughter to the US by 5 June, which was ‘inconsistent’ with a stay she had been granted until 12 June.

In the matter of Re J (a child) [2015] EWHC 1627, Munby said he had made the order on 29 May, after he was alerted by the father’s solicitors that the mother’s permission for appeal had been refused.

But the order, which also required tickets for the child’s return to be booked by 2 June and for the mother’s passport to be confiscated, was made without him realising the mother had been granted a stay by Lady Justice King in the Court of Appeal.

The stay was granted on 22 May, but was not brought to light until 2 June, as it was made the day before a court vacation. The police, acting on the authority of the tipstaff, executed Munby’s passport order on 31 May, and even when the mother alerted the tipstaff that she had been granted a stay, she was told the order would be enforced.

The confusion was revealed when King LJ’s order for a stay was sealed and sent to the mother and father on 2 June. Munby set aside his order on 4 June on the basis of ‘inadvertent non-disclosure of critical information’, but noted that the passport order would not have been affected by the stay.

Munby said. ‘The mother and J are entitled to an unreserved apology. Procedures in the court offices will, no doubt, be tightened up in the light of what this most unfortunate case has revealed. [Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette]