Saturday 16 December 2017

French mum wanted on child abduction charges 'came to Ireland to protect autistic son'

The Four Courts
The Four Courts

Alison O'Riordan

A French woman who is wanted on child abduction charges but claims she came to Ireland to protect her autistic son has appeared before the High Court.

Last December the woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was brought before the High Court and held in custody at the Dochas Centre in Dublin, on foot of a warrant issued by the French authorities seeking her extradition on child abduction charges in respect of her now 17 year old son.

The European Extradition Warrant seeking her surrender also alleges that the woman failed to obey a French court’s order requiring her to deliver the boy to his father.

Last December the woman was granted bail by the High Court on conditions including that a surety of €75,000 be provided.

Today at a hearing before Ms Justice Aileen Donnelly, the High Court heard that the woman flew to Ireland with her son a day after she was due to hand him over to her ex-husband.

She feared if she had returned her son to his father, the boy could have ended up in a psychiatric institution and become institutionalised for life.

The woman previously said that international bodies including the United Nations have criticised the French government’s policies on children with autism.

Today counsel for the Minister for Justice and Equality, Mr Vincent Heneghan BL, addressed the issue as to whether the warrant which was issued on October 5 2015 had a corresponding offence in Ireland.

Mr Heneghan told the court that the warrant related to two issues, the abduction of a minor and the failure to deliver a child.

He said child abduction in this jurisdiction applied to children under the age of 16 and seeing that this boy was over 16 years of age at the time, the equivalent offence was one of false imprisonment.

"The child has lived with his mother since he was four years of age.

There was a dispute between the parents on how to educate the child.

It is accepted this woman took her child to Ireland in September 2015.

The woman was arrested on December 17 2015. The offence of abducting your own child can exist and in this instance it goes beyond parental control. Its unnatural guardianship," he said.

Counsel said that there was no evidence presented to the court before today suggesting that the child came here on its own volition.

"The child was taken and that is where the offence of false imprisonment occurred. If the respondent is saying he came here by consent or by his own free will, they haven’t produced anything to say he is consenting or has the capacity to consent. A parent can indeed falsely imprison their own child and the offence takes place the moment a person is taken," said Mr Heneghan.

The court heard that an affidavit from the child's speech therapist "does not go near enough" to saying this person had the capacity to consent.

Mr Michael Lynn SC, defending, told the court that this warrant does not meet the offence of false imprisonment as there was nothing in the warrant that took away the personal liberty of the child.

"There is no suggestion in any way that the boy was being held against his will. It is not hinted in any way in the warrant that the boy did not want to accompany his mother. In my submission, false imprisonment is only understood as the restraining of someone’s liberty against their will, so consent is at the heart of it. The mother doesn’t retain the child, she just doesn't pro-actively return the child," he said.

Counsel said that just because a parent does not bring a child to a particular time and place by an order, it does not mean they have falsely imprisoned the child.

Ms Justice Donnelly told the court there are a number of issues that have to be looked at including whether the child had consent to leave a country in defiance of a court order.

Addressing Mr Lynn, Ms Justice Donnelly said: "I accept your saying there cant be a false imprisonment as there would have to be a restriction on personal liberty but I'm saying where there is a court order for a child, does that trump anything else."

Mr Lynn then asked the judge to vary his client's bail conditions as she is signing on three times a week.

The judge reduced her bail conditions to sign on twice a week.

The next hearing date was set for June 2.

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