Northern Ireland

Court rules NI mother must return child to Italy

A Northern Ireland woman has been ordered to return her daughter to Italy following a legal battle with the child's father.

Her claims that bringing the four-year-old back would expose her to grave risk of intolerable harm was rejected by a High Court judge.

Proceedings were launched following the break-down of the parent's relationship.

The court heard the couple had lived together in Italy from 2000, where the woman worked as an English teacher.

The child who was given the pseudonym Maria to protect her identity, travelled to Northern Ireland for a holiday in July with her mother but did not return as expected.

Instead, the mother began wardship moves without her ex-partner's knowledge.

Mr Justice Stephens said it became clear to the father, an Italian national, that she had no intention of returning to Italy with Maria.

Wrongfully detained

The child's father, who agrees that her mother is the primary carer as long as he has good regular contact, then applied for a court order.

It was argued - and accepted by the woman's lawyer - that Maria was wrongfully detained in Northern Ireland.

Counsel for the child's mother claimed that taking her back would involve a grave risk of the girl being exposed to physical or psychological harm, or place her in an intolerable position.

The woman claimed to have suffered 10 years of domestic abuse by Maria's father, and also that he made a sexually inappropriate remark.

However, the judge held that the "sweeping allegation of domestic abuse... is in the main unparticularised".

Mr Justice Stephens also said there was no corroboration of the physical abuse claims.

In his ruling, delivered last month but only now published by the Court Service, he said: "There is evidence in this case of harm but I do not consider it to amount to clear and compelling evidence that a return would create a grave risk of intolerable harm to Maria."

The judge based his conclusion on a number of factors, including the lack of specific evidence, the father's denials, and a series of undertakings given by him.

He pointed out that the woman can apply to the courts in Italy for protective orders if required.

Mr Justice Stephens ordered that Maria was to have been returned to Italy on or before 6 December, on the proviso that her father formally signs his undertakings and provides a sworn affidavit.

He added: "I also direct that all the papers in this case be made available to the courts in Italy together with a transcript of this ruling."