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Custody Of Children (Court Orders)

Volume 958: debated on Wednesday 15 November 1978

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asked the Lord Advocate whether he has had any discussions with the legal representatives of other Governments about reciprocal recognition of court orders regarding the custody of children.

This subject was discussed at a meeting of the Council of Ministers of Justice of the European Communities in Luxembourg, which I attended along with my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor on 9th October 1978. I expressed the views of the United Kingdom on the matter, and laid stress on the necessity, while seeking more effective enforcement of custody orders, to have the interest of the child as the paramount consideration.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind the great public concern about the recent case of Mrs. Sarah Campins who was sent to gaol for almost a week, to Cornton Vale prison in my constituency, because the law was unable to guarantee that her children would be returned to her if they went on a holiday abroad with their father? Does he agree that the best way to avoid repetitions of such unfair imprisonment is to get some kind of reciprocal agreement with other countries?

I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that we must have in this case an appropriate agreement with other countries. He suggested a reciprocal agreement. With respect, I think that it must be rather wider than that. But I can tell my hon. Friend that prior to my visit to Luxembourg I received a petition signed by more than 1,000 people and a deputation which, in connection with the Campins case, stressed to me the importance of early action on this matter. I took into account what was said to me when I spoke for the United Kingdom at Luxembourg.

It will perhaps be of interest to the House to know that at the Council of Ministers a decision was reached to instruct a working party of experts to examine whether what was being done by the Council of Europe in this area—which has the objective of a convention which would bind 21 nations in Europe —is likely to resolve the relevant problems in the reasonably near future or whether there ought to be a smaller scale convention binding the nine members of the Community.