Council slammed in custody battle

Romsey Advertiser: The boy's father had not learned of the legal proceedings until around five months after the boy had been taken into care. The boy's father had not learned of the legal proceedings until around five months after the boy had been taken into care.

A High Court judge asked to the make decisions about the future of a five-year-old Latvian boy at the centre of an international tug-of-love dispute between his divorced parents has questioned the performance of a local authority involved in the case.

Mrs Justice Theis said the boy had been taken into temporary foster care after being brought to England by his mother. She said Kent County Council - plus judges and a guardian appointed by the court to represent the youngster - had not got to "grips" with issues. And she said the case had caused her "enormous concern".

The judge said council officials had been ordered by a judge to write to the boy's father in Latvia notifying him of legal proceedings taking place in England, but "simply did not write the letter".

And she said the boy's father had not learned of the legal proceedings until around five months after the boy had been taken into care.

Detail has emerged in a written ruling published on a legal website following hearings in the Family Division of the High Court in London. Mrs Justice Theis said she had now concluded that the boy should be returned to Latvia - after the boy's father asked if his son could live with him.

The judge said she had decided that the boy's "habitual residence" had been in Latvia and said English courts did not there have jurisdiction to decide whether he should be placed into care. She said the little boy had been born in Latvia and had lived in Latvia until he was four.

The youngster's mother had brought him to England in early 2013 - following a divorce. About four months later, social workers became concerned when bruising was seen on his face at school. The judge said bruising had been caused when he was in the care of his mother's then partner.

She said Kent County Council had issued care proceedings and the youngster had been placed into temporary foster care - pending decisions about his long-term future - in April 2013.

But Mrs Justice Theis said the boy's father had not been given formal notice of legal proceedings relating to his son until September.

"This case has caused the court enormous concern," said Mrs Justice Theis.

"The father in this case was not served with the papers, or given formal notice of these proceedings, until September 2013 - some five months after care proceedings were started whereby his son was placed in interim foster care."

She added: "This had come about due to a combination of the local authority, the (child's) guardian and the court not getting to grips with the issues."

Mrs Justice Theis said another judge had ordered the council to write to the boy's father in August 2013. She added: "I am told the local authority simply did not write the letter."

She said she had expressed concerned at a hearing in September and "at the invitation of the court" the father had been contacted "that day".

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