International Liaison Judge and Lord Justice Thorpe.

4177519542_2e3307c179_mIn 1998 at the De Ruwenberg Seminar for Judges on the international protection of children, in the Netherlands, Lord Justice Mathew Thorpe first proposed the creation of an international network of judges. This network would involve one or more members of the judiciary being elected within each of the Contracting States of the Hague Convention. These judiciary would then act as a channel of communication between the Contacting States. They would liaise with their national Central Authorities, with other judges within their own jurisdictions and with judges in other Contracting States on international matters. Initially these matters would fall under the Hague Convention 1980, but it was envisaged that the scope of the matters the network would cover would grow incrementally over the years.

At present the International Network of Liaison Judges is made up of approximately 68 judges from 46 jurisdictions across the world. Further a European Judicial Network was created in 2002. ‘With the advent of the Regulation Brussels II Revised in March 2005, the Commission has recognised the importance of direct judicial communication and therefore the need to adapt the EJN (European Judicial Network) to cater for cross-border family proceedings. Accordingly Brussels’ meetings of the EJN are now periodically constituted with a purely family law agenda.’ (The Work of the Head of International Family Law, Lord Justice Thorpe). Lord Justice Thorpe’s article, published by Family Law Weekly in 2006 is an interesting read. It gives an insight into the establishment and expansion of the International Network of Judges and the role of the Head of International Family law, a position he occupied for some eight years. Lord Justice Thorpe was the International Liaison Judge for England & Wales until he retired on the 31st July 2013, replacing him now is Lady Justice Black.

The International Network of Judges allows a judge within one state to communicate with another state via their liaison judge. The Liaison Judge will then contact the Liaison Judge for the appropriate jurisdiction, if there is one. The liaison judge within the jurisdiction under question will then answer any questions they can or liaise with the appropriate judges within their jurisdiction in order to formulate a response. The parties within the case are kept updated continuously.

The jurisdictions of England & Wales and the Netherlands have gone one step further and created offices dedicated to dealing with difficulties in international cases. The Head of these offices is generally the elected International Liaison Judge for the appropriate jurisdiction. The offices filter enquires and deal with individuals from their own jurisdiction who wish to speak directly to a judge within any of the other jurisdictions or vice versa.

In 2005 Lord Justice Thorpe was appointed as the Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales. The position was created by the Lord Chief Justice Woolf and the Lord Chancellor in January 2005. The post was created in reaction to the steady and continued growth in international family law, something that has continued growing at an ever increasing rate. According to the Office of the Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales Annual Report of the 1st January 2012 to the 31st December 2012, the International Family Justice office is ‘a centre of expertise and helpdesk for general enquiries in the field of international family law for the judiciary and practitioners in this jurisdiction and overseas. Its main role is to support and facilitate cross-border judicial collaboration and direct judicial communication and to enhance the expertise necessary for handling the large numbers of cases relating to aspects of private international law.’ The Report goes on the state that ‘since the Office’s establishment, practitioners, judges, litigants, charities, government officials and others, from the UK and abroad, have requested its assistance year on year. 2011 saw a 96% increase in requests on 2010. 2012 [continued] the trend. 2012… [requests exceeded] what was estimated in the 2011 Annual Report. This is mirrored in terms of jurisdictions the Office has dealt with. 2012 saw the Office receive requests concerning disputes relating to 71 jurisdictions, a 40% increase on 2011. Of those 71 jurisdictions, the Office was able to offer meaningful assistance in relation to 46 of them (c.65%).’

It is obvious that the offices and the networks are facing increasing demand and this is only likely to grow as transnational migration, marriage and family life increase. We would all love to start over in the sun and as more and more of us choose to do just this, the more the law, the legal systems and the jurisdictions need to adapt. The International Network of Judges appears to work well in confronting the issues of transnational communication and it will hopefully go on to develop. Arguably the next step could be to create an international database of cases which are currently proceeding in each jurisdiction, the database being open to all courts and judges within the jurisdictions. This would then allow judges to quickly access information on whether a case is proceeding within another jurisdiction and could greatly assist in arguments relating to jurisdictional and transnational legal issues.

And with that my working day has come to an end, the wind is howling outside, hurtling down the chimney and into our office, luckily the heating is keeping us warm. Not so luckily I have to venture outside in a few minutes to run to the train station. I have a four day weekend ahead, however, so I can’t complain. In my absence I am sure Charlotte and Becca will be keeping you suitably entertained and informed.

The Annual Report of the Office of the Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales of the 1st January 2012 to the 31st December 2012 can be found here: http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Reports/international_family_justice_2013.pdf

The Work of the Head of International Family Law by Lord Justice Thorpe can be found here:  http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed1865

Another article of interest is, The Judges’ Newsletter on International Child Protection vol. XV / autumn 2009 – Special Focus, Theme 2, P. Lortie, which can be found here: http://www.hcch.net/index_en.php?act=text.display&tid=60#_ftnref2

Photo by jbachman01 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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