Sheikh Mohammed ruling puts fact finding hearings in the spotlight

11th March 2020, 3:35 pm

The Family Court making ‘findings’ at a Finding of Fact hearing into the actions of the ruler of Dubai over accusations he orchestrated the abductions of two of his children and threatened his wife, was the ‘correct approach’ to the matter, says family lawyer Chris Longbottom.

Chris, a partner at Clarke Willmott LLP in Manchester, said: “In this sad and concerning case, I believe this was the correct approach and although an extreme example, it highlights that anyone seeking to remove children from the jurisdiction (of England and Wales), should take expert legal advice before taking action.

“The court based its findings upon ‘the balance of probabilities’ regarding the long and concerning allegations made by Princess Haya, wife of Sheikh Mohammed, and the kidnapping and imprisonment of his daughters.

“While this is an extreme case; the underlying issues are more commonplace than one might think.

“It highlights the importance of taking urgent and early advice regarding issues of forceful international removal of children, contemplation of moving or travelling overseas when separated, and general childcare arrangements.

“Such applications can be challenging, and emotions may run high, but if well-thought out plans are in place and safeguards in the event of default are addressed, the prospects of success will be improved.”

A fact-finding hearing considers the evidence surrounding allegations, which will normally include parties being cross-examined, after which the court will make a decision as to whether alleged incidents did or did not happen.

In this case, Sheikh Mohammed’s actions, were described by Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the high court in England and Wales, as behaviour which, on the balance of probabilities, amounted to potentially breaking English and international law.

“‘Finding of Fact’ hearings are now rare in my view due to the historical background being argued over rather than perhaps concentrating on the future of child arrangements, coupled with the impact upon increasing litigation costs,” added Chris.

“If the case, or child arrangements, can be progressed regardless of having to look at the past – unless those issues, or allegations, still remain – then there may be no need to engage in findings.

“Clearly, in this case, the parties had the funds to litigate the matter and the allegations, due to their nature, would impact upon the future care and arrangements for the children.”

Chris says litigation relating to removal and relocation of a child can be some of the most difficult challenges a family lawyer can experience.

“There is often no middle ground for the parties involved, creating a challenge to ensure the parties retain the best interests of the child as the primary subject, rather than their own wishes and feelings.

“If there is a dispute as to fact in a children dispute – the court will usually be placed in a position where they have to make ‘findings’ in order for the case to continue to be determined based upon those findings.

“In my view, this delays proceedings and takes the focus away, from the real matter at hand – the welfare of the child and the arrangements to be determined regarding their care.”

Much of the 34-page fact-finding in the case of Sheikh Mohammed, records the events surrounding the notorious disappearances of Princess Shamsa from Cambridge in 2000, when she was 19, and of Princess Latifa, who was seized by Indian army commandos from the Indian Ocean in 2018, when she was 32, before being forcibly returned to Dubai.

Chris Longbottom heads the Family Law team at Clarke Willmott in Manchester and regularly deals with issues that arise for an individual following the breakdown of a relationship, in relation to divorce/civil partnership dissolution, their financial affairs and their children.

Clarke Willmott LLP is a national law firm with seven offices across the country in Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Manchester, Southampton and Taunton.

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Issued by Empica Ltd on behalf of Clarke Willmott LLP. For further information contact Judith Skorupski on 020 8983 0779 or Kayleigh Penny on 01275 394400.

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