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1996 Hague Convention

Convention of 19 October 1996 on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in Respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children .

Also known as the 1996 Hague Convention, this is a Convention of the Hague Conference which covers a wide range of civil measures for protection concerning children. It reinforces the Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction by underlining the primary role played by the authorities where the child habitually resides in deciding upon any measures which may be needed to protect them.

The Hague Conference also provides information on Child Abduction which can be accessed on their website by clicking here.

The Hague Conference is an intergovernmental organisation, the purpose of which is “to work for the progressive unification of the rules of private international law”. It has 72 Members ( 71 States and the European Union). The principal method used to achieve this purpose consists of the negotiation and drafting of multilateral treaties (conventions) in the different fields of private international law. You can read more about the Hague Conference by visiting their website www.hcch.net

Overview of the Convention

The 1996 Hague Convention applies to all children from birth until they are aged 18. The 1996 Hague Convention is intended to improve the protection of children in international situations. Before it comes into law it must be “ratified” by the members of the Hague Conference. It came into operation in the United Kingdom on the 1st November 2012.

The main purposes of the 1996 Hague Convention are:-

  • To determine the Contracting State whose authorities have jurisdiction to take measures within the scope of the Convention. The general rule under the Convention is that jurisdiction is vested in the authorities of the country in which the child is habitually resident although there are a number of exceptions to this.
  • To determine the law to be applied. The general rule under the Convention is that the authorities in the country which has jurisdiction are to apply domestic law, although they may exceptionally apply or take into account the law of another Contracting State with which the situation has a substantial connection.
  • To provide for measures of protection taken in one Contracting State to be recognised and enforced in another Contracting State. Enforcement in Northern Ireland of a measure taken in another country will take place through the courts.
  • To establish co-operation between the authorities of Contracting States.

The 1996 Hague Convention does not apply to adoption, maintenance obligations and measures taken as a result of penal offences committed by children. It does however apply to matters such as:-

  • Parental responsibility (the rights and responsibilities a parent has in relation to a child as a matter of law).
  • Who a child will live with (custody or residence).
  • Who can see a child (access or contact).
  • Public authority intervention, for example, where a child is taken into care.
  • Matters of representation to the protection of children’s property.

Role of the Northern Ireland Courts & Tribunals Service under the 1996 Hague Convention

A number of functions under the 1996 Hague Convention are conferred on designated Central Authorities within each Contracting State. These functions primarily relate to administrative co-operation. England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own Central Authority.
The Department of Justice has been designated as the Central Authority under the Convention for Northern Ireland. In practice its functions will be discharged by Central Business Unit a branch of the Northern Ireland Courts & Tribunals Service. The functions of the Central Authority are: -

  • To provide information about the law and services available in Northern Ireland relating to the protection of children.
  • To facilitate communications with authorities in other countries.
  • To facilitate, by mediation, conciliation or similar means, agreed solutions for the protection of the person or the property of a child in situations to which the Convention applies.
  • To assist in discovering the whereabouts of a child where it appears that the child may be present in Northern Ireland and in need of protection.
  • To provide a report on a child habitually resident in Northern Ireland to the authorities in another Contracting State.
  • To request the competent authorities in Northern Ireland to consider the need to take measures for the protection of a child habitually resident in Northern Ireland upon the request of another Contracting State with which the child has a substantial connection.

The Convention does not require a Central Authority to carry out all of the functions conferred on it on its own. Other public authorities or bodies in Northern Ireland which may be better placed to discharge certain functions must assist the Northern Ireland Courts & Tribunals Service carry out the role.

Countries signed up to the Convention

The list of countries that are signed up to the convention can be found by accessing the the “Status Table” of the 1996 Hague Convention maintained by the Hague Conference.

Information about the law and services available in Northern Ireland relating to the protection of children

Child Care Policy Directorate of the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has Departmental responsibility for the development and review of Policy, Legislation and Guidance on Child Protection and Children in Care in Northern Ireland. You can access further information on this Directorate at their website http://www.dhsspsni.gov.uk/index/hss/child_care.htm.

If you have child protection concerns you should report these immediately to the relevant Health and Social Care Trust for further investigation. The contact details for the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Trusts Gateway Services for Children’s Social Work can be found on their respective websites:-

Alternatively, you can contact the NSPCC’s free and confidential 24 hour helpline service on 0808 800 5000 or you can contact the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) on 0845 600 8000 or in an emergency dial 999.

The Family Law Act 1986 contains powers for the court to order that a child’s whereabouts be disclosed; to order the recovery of a child; to restrict the removal of a child from the United Kingdom and to require the surrender of any passport containing details of a child.

Under the Child Abduction (Northern Ireland) Order 1985, it is a criminal offence in Northern Ireland for any person connected with a child, to take or send the child out of the United Kingdom without the consent of any other person who has parental responsibility for the child. A parent who has the right to have contact with or access to a child will usually also have parental responsibility. The term 'connected with a child' is defined in Article 3 of the Child Abduction (Northern Ireland) Order 1985 and includes the parents or guardians of a child and anyone who has parental responsibility for the child.

No offence is committed, however, where a child is the subject of a custody/residence order, if the court which made the order has consented to the child being removed from the country.

Further information on the law specific to the Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction can be accessed here on our website.

Further information on the law relating to children may be obtained from:-

Legal Advice

It is not the responsibility of the Central Authority to provide legal advice. The Northern Ireland Courts & Tribunals Service is also unable to provide legal advice either in its role as the Central Authority under the 1996 Hague Convention, or in any other capacity.

If you require legal advice you should contact a solicitor which can be done via:-

Mediation

1996 Hague Convention encourages parties to reach an amicable solution to disputes without recourse to court proceedings. You may wish to make use of mediation, conciliation or similar services and explore if this is an appropriate solution for you.

A number of mediation providers are available in Northern Ireland. You should contact Citizen’s Advice for more information. Their contact details are available on www.citizensadvice.co.uk.

Contact us

The Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service is open from Monday to Friday (9:00 am to 5:00 pm). The Central Authority can be contacted at the following address:-

Central Business Unit
Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service
4th Floor
Laganside House
23 - 27 Oxford Street
Belfast BT1 3LA

Tel: (028) 9072 8808 or (028) 9072 8909
If you are calling from outside the UK +44 28 9072 8808
Fax: (028) 9072 8945
E-mail: If you are on CJSM you can email us securely at internationalchildabduction@courtsni.gov.uk

If you are not on CJSM then you can still email us using the email address above. This is not a secure email address and we may not respond by email depending on the content of our response (we will respond by post).