16-Year Old Admitted As A Party To Proceedings Between Her Parents

In the case of (Cambra v Jones and another) a 16-year old wished to be a party to proceedings bought by her father to commit her mother to prison after failing to return their children to Spain

In private law (Hague Convention) proceedings the court had ordered the mother to return the J and her younger brother (T) to Spain. The time for compliance with the order had expired and the father applied for committal to prison of the mother for contempt of court. The mother denied that she was in contempt and maintained that it was impossible for her to compel J and T to return to Spain. J was 16 years old and T was 14 years old at the time of the proceedings and neither wanted to leave England.

Shortly before the committal hearing J, through her solicitors, sought to be jointed as a party to the committal proceedings. Her reasons for wishing to participate were: (i) it was her own refusal to return to Spain that resulted in the court order not being complied with and she did not want to see her mother being held responsible for that; (ii) the impact on her personally if her mother were to be imprisoned at that crucial stage in her education would be hugely significant; (iii) she wished to participate in any renewed attempt the father might make to enforce the order for her return to Spain, as it was unfair to T and her for the father to continue to seek their return despite their strong and long-held objections to returning.

The main issue was whether J should participate as a party to the committal proceedings. J submitted, amongst other things, that her own rights under art 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights were engaged, and not merely at the point when her mother came to be sentenced if contempt was proved, but also at the prior stage when the issue of contempt fell to be determined. Arts 3.1 and 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, and in particular art 12.2 were also bought o the Court’s attention, which provided that “the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law”. J was clearly 'affected' by the proceedings against her mother. Finally, J pointed to the growing acceptance in recent case law of the need to involve children in processes which so directly impact upon them.

The father submitted that relying also on recent case law, the court should be cautious about giving a teenager party status. It should not be a matter of routine.

The court ruled:

Whether or not to give a teenager party status depended on the circumstances of the case. In the instant case, it was hard to imagine that things could get any worse for J and T. J was in the eyes of the law a child, though no doubt saw herself as a young woman. It was overwhelmingly clear that her best interests were served by enabling her to participate as she would wish rather than preventing her. J's particular evidence was evidence which (although the mother might have a valuable perspective on) neither parent could give and J had a standpoint incapable of being represented by either of the adults.

Therefore J should have party status.


Elizabeth Bettes

Published on 02/05/2014

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