United Kingdom: Timetables for Hague Convention Return Applications

Whilst there is no formal set timetable the listing officer ensures that Hague applications are listed for hearing very quickly and the established general rule is as follows:  

  • once the initial application is made, it is fixed for hearing 7 days later;
  • if a defence is raised the application is listed for directions within 21 days;
  • in order to accommodate this, and given the pressure on court lists, the proceedings are listed “at risk” which means that there is a possibility that on the day of hearing a Judge may not able to accommodate the hearing due to the pressure of other hearings - if this happens a further hearing is fixed for shortly thereafter.

Adjournments are limited by rules of court [Family Proceedings Rules 1991 rule 6.10] to a maximum of 21 days so that the court exercises control over the progress of a case.  

Article 11(3) of the Brussels II revised regulation provides as between Member States of the European Community, that a court to which an application for return of a child is made under the Convention, the court shall act expeditiously in proceedings on the application, using the most expeditious procedures available in national law and without prejudice to this, shall, except where exceptional circumstances make this impossible, issue its judgment no later than six weeks after the application is lodged.  

Permission to appeal is required. The permission application should be made to the first instance Judge if possible and if not to the Court of Appeal. If permission is refused by the first instance Judge, the application can be renewed to the Court of Appeal. 

Any Notice of Appeal has to be filed within 14 days of the date of the first instance decision. Convention cases are given priority. The Court of Appeal office will try to refer the application for permission to appeal either on the day of issue or within 24 hours to a Lord Justice of Appeal (generally the Head of International Family Law). The Lord Justice of Appeal will give listing directions including deciding whether the application for permission to appeal and the appeal should be heard together so that the permission stage and the substantive appeal hearing take place on the same day.  

Ordinarily an appeal will be determined within 6 weeks of the grant of permission to appeal. The final appellant stage is an appeal to the House of Lords. This rarely occurs.  

The Court of Appeal has recently given guidance as to the administrative process to be adopted by the court, in order to ensure that proceedings governed by the Convention and the Brussels II revised regulation are determined within the 6 week time limit imposed by Article 11(3) of the regulation: Vigreux v Michel and Michel[2006] EWCA Civ 630

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