Jurisdiction to protect vulnerable adults exercised to order that father facilitates daughter's return from Saudi Arabia

Thursday 1 September 2016

Amina Al-Jeffery v Mohammed Al-Jeffery [2016] EWHC 2151 (Fam), Holman J, 3 August 2016. The jurisdiction to protect vulnerable adults was exercised to order that a father facilitate the return of his daughter, Amina Al-Jeffery, from Saudi Arabia to England and Wales.

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Amina Al-Jeffery v Mohammed Al-Jeffery [2016] EWHC 2151 (Fam), Holman J, 3 August 2016

The jurisdiction to protect vulnerable adults was exercised to order that a father facilitate the return of his daughter from Saudi Arabia to England and Wales.

The daughter (A) was aged 21 and had dual citizenship of the UK and Saudi Arabia. She was born in Wales and had been taken to Saudi Arabia when aged 16 where she remained. Her father was a citizen of Saudi Arabia only. She claimed she was being seriously ill-treated by him, kept under constraint in his flat, and prevented from leaving Saudi Arabia.

The father said he took her to Saudi Arabia because she was not focusing on school, was taking drugs, drinking alcohol, and spending time with older men. He denied that she currently wished to return to England and Wales. He accepted that to stop her running away he had put up a barrier partition in the flat which he locked when he went to work, but claimed it had since been taken down.

At an interim hearing the court ordered the father to facilitate A’s attendance at the British Consulate in Jeddah to give instructions to her solicitors privately and confidentially. The father failed to comply with the order. As a result it had not been possible to take instructions from A and evidence from her was limited.

The father took her to the Hilton Hotel in Jeddah to give evidence by video link but A’s counsel quite rightly refused to embark on any consideration of oral evidence in the absence of instructions from her, and there were no safeguards in respect of any pressures she might be under. A scheduled fact find hearing could not therefore take place because of the father’s decision not to comply with the court’s order.

The court found on the evidence before it that A was and, as far as the court was aware, continued to be, deprived of her liberty.

The case was decided on the basis that A was now habitually resident in Saudi Arabia.

It was held that the jurisdiction in relation to vulnerable adults as explained in Re SA (Vulnerable adult with capacity: marriage) [2005] EWHC 2942 (Fam) could be exercised in relation to an adult who was habitually resident abroad but who was a British citizen, following the decisions in relation to children in Re A (Jurisdiction: return of child) [2014] UKSC 60 and Re B (A child)(Habitual residence: inherent jurisdiction) [2016] UKSC 4.

The jurisdiction should be exercised with great caution and circumspection but was not limited to the extreme end of the spectrum. There was little that could be done if the father chose to disobey the order. There was no convention in operation between Britain and Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia did not recognise A’s British nationality. However, although the father had no assets in this country he may however wish to visit his family members who still resided here. The court had considerable moral and practical hold over him.

The jurisdiction would be exercised to order the father to enable A to return to Wales or England by 11 September 2016. The order did not mean that A was being compelled to return; therefore the court would consider what mechanism would enable her to freely say so if she did not wish to do so.

An application for a forced marriage protection order was discontinued, the court observing that a person may marry as a means of escaping from the domination or control of their parents but such a marriage was not of itself a forced marriage (paragraph 36).

The full judgment is available.

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