Ex parte wardship proceedings were brought in respect of four children, all British citizens, as there were reasonable grounds for believing that the entire family had left the UK to join Islamic State in Syria.

Re M (Children): Family Division: 20 May 2015

In April 2015, the family left home in the UK without warning and without telling the wider family. They were caught on CCTV going through customs at the Port of Dover at about midnight the same day, leaving the UK on a ferry that departed very early the next morning. Some days later they were reported missing to the police and the police appealed in the media for information.

The same day, as it subsequently transpired, the family crossed the border into Turkey. They were detained by the Turkish authorities in Ankara, a fact reported in the UK media later the same day. The UK media reported that, having been deported ‘of their own will’ from Turkey to Moldova, the family had been detained in Moldova.

The media further reported that the family had returned to the country. It was the applicant local authority’s broad view that the children had suffered significant harm and were likely to do so in the event that wardship orders had not been made as there were reasonable grounds for believing that the family had left the UK to join Islamic State in Syria. If that was right, the parents had chosen to expose their children to obvious risks in so doing. 

An emergency order was made that the children were to be made wards of court during their minority and until further order to the contrary. The judge being satisfied that it was an appropriate case to permit the local authority to apply without notice to the parents and that the court had jurisdiction to make orders in wardship as the children were habitually resident in the country or had British nationality.

Further, unless the court made protective orders, the children were likely to suffer significant harm and  the children’s welfare would be best served. The story of the steps which the court and the local authority were taking or proposing to take to safeguard the children’s welfare here and abroad was made subject to an Reporting Restriction Order (RRO) or in the instant case an anti-tipping-off order. The order was for a limited period only.

The matter returned to court to be heard with the presence of the parents.

The issues were: (i) whether the court ought to continue the wardship orders; (ii) whether the court should continue the RRO or make any sort of reporting restriction order and in what form those restrictions should be.

The court ruled:

(1) It was established principle, that all involved had to recognise that in the particular process it was the interest of the individual child that was paramount. That could not be eclipsed by wider considerations of counter-terrorism policy or operations, but it had to be recognised that the decision the court was being asked to take could only be arrived at against an informed understanding of that wider canvas (see [35], [37] of the judgment).

The court had jurisdiction to make the children wards of court, because they were British subjects, notwithstanding the fact that they were at the time out of the jurisdiction. Having jurisdiction, it was plain that the court had to had to exercise it, as the children’s future welfare demanded imperatively that the court should do so. The application to the court had appropriately been made ex parte (without notice) because, to quote there were compelling reasons to believe that the child’s welfare would be compromised if the parents were alerted in advance to what was going on (see [34], [35] of the judgment).

A (children) (jurisdiction: return of child), Re [2013] All ER (D) 66 (Sep) considered; M v B [2005] All ER (D) 449 (Jul) considered; X Council v B (emergency protection orders) [2004] All ER (D) 163 (Aug) considered.

(2) Once the children had returned to the jurisdiction, there was no continuing reason for maintaining the RRO. It had served its purpose. It no longer had any function. It had to accordingly be discharged (see [47]-[49] of the judgment).

The proceedings would continue in private, though in due course the court would give a further judgment dealing with future events (see [50] of the judgment).

John Vater QC for the applicant local authority; Tina Villarosa for the parents (on 8 May 2015); Ciaran Gould for Thames Valley Police (on 8 May 2015)