Complete Supreme Court proceedings: Judgement of International Child Abduction case of Aditya

Complete Supreme Court proceedings: Judgement of International Child Abduction case of Aditya

IN THE SUPREME COURT OF INDIA

CRIMINAL ORIGINAL JURISDICTION

WRIT PETITION (CRL.) NO.112/2007

Dr. V. Ravi Chandran ..Petitioner

Versus

Union of India & Ors. ..Respondents

JUDGMENT

R.M. LODHA, J.

Adithya is a boy of seven, born on July 1, 2002, in the
United States of America. He is a foreign national. The petition before

us is by the father – Dr. V . Ravi Chandran–praying for a writ of

habeas corpus for the production of his minor son Adithya and for

handing over the custody and his passport to him.

2. On August 28, 2009, this Court passed an order

requesting Director, Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to trace

minor Adithya and produce him before this Court. The necessity of

such order arose as despite efforts made by the police officers and

officials of different states, Adithya and his mother – respondent

no. 6–Vijayasree Voora–could not be traced and their whereabouts

could not be found for more than two years since the notice was

issued by this Court. In pursuance of the order dated August 28,

2009, CBI issued look out notices on all India basis through heads of

police of States, Union Territories and Metropolitan Cities and also

alert notices through Deputy Director, Bureau of Immigration

(Immigration), Ministry of Home Affairs, New Delhi and flashed

photographs of the child Adithya and his mother Vijayasree Voora.

Ultimately with its earnest efforts, CBI traced Adithya and his mother

Vijayashree Voora in Chennai on October 24, 2009 and brought them

to Delhi and produced the child along with his mother at the

residential office of one of us (Tarun Chatterjee, J.) on October 25,

2009. On that day, the CBI authorities were directed to keep the child

under their custody and produce him before the Court on October 27,

2009. Respondent no. 6 was also directed to be produced on that

date. On October 27, 2009, the matter was adjourned for November

4, 2009 since respondent no.6 wanted to engage a lawyer and file a

counter affidavit. On November 4, 2009, matter was adjourned to

November 10, 2009 and then to November 12, 2009. The petitioner

2

was permitted to meet the child for one hour on November 10, 2009

and November 12, 2009. In the meanwhile, respondent no. 6 has

filed counter affidavit in opposition to the habeas corpus petition and

petitioner has filed rejoinder affidavit to the counter affidavit filed by

respondent no.6.

3. We heard Ms. Pinky Anand, learned senior counsel for
the petitioner and Mr. T.L.V. Iyer, learned senior counsel for

respondent no. 6. Now since minor Adithya has been produced, the

only question that remains to be considered is with regard to the

prayer made by the petitioner for handing over the custody of minor

Adithya to him with his passport.

4. But before we do that, it is necessary to notice few
material facts. Dr. V. Ravi Chandran – petitioner – is an American

citizen. He and respondent no. 6 got married on December 14, 2000

at Tirupathi, Andhra Pradesh according to Hindu rites. On July 1,

2002, Adithya was born in United States of America. In the month of

July 2003, respondent no. 6 approached the New York State

Supreme Court for divorce and dissolution of marriage. A consent

order governing the issues of custody and guardianship of minor

3

Adithya was passed by the New York State Supreme Court on April

18, 2005. The Court granted joint custody of the child to the
petitioner and respondent no. 6 and it was stipulated in the order to

keep the other party informed about the whereabouts of the child.

On July 28, 2005, a Separation Agreement was entered between the

petitioner and respondent no.6 for distribution of marital property,

spouse maintenance and child support. As regards custody of the

minor son Adithya and parenting time, the petitioner and respondent

no. 6 consented to the order dated April 18, 2005. On September 8,

2005, the marriage between the petitioner and respondent no.6 was

dissolved by the New York State Supreme Court. Child custody order

dated April 18, 2005 was incorporated in that order.

5. Upon the petition for modification of custody filed by the
petitioner and the petition for enforcement filed by him and upon the

petition for enforcement filed by respondent no.6 before the Family

Court of the State of New York, on June 18, 2007, upon the consent

of both parties, inter – alia, the following order came to be passed:

“ORDERED, the parties shall share joint legal and

physical custody of the minor child; and it is further

4

ORDERED, that commencing during August 2007,

Adithya shall reside in Allen, Texas; and it is further

ORDERED, that the parties acknowledge that it is

the intention of the parties to reside within the same

community. As such, it is the mother’s current intention to

relocate to Texas, within a forty (40) mile radius of the

father’s residence. If the mother does relocate to a forty (40)

mile radius of the father’s residence (which shall be within

a twenty (20) mile radius from the child’s school),, the parties

shall equally share physical custody of Adithya. The parties

shall alternate physical custody on a weekly basis, with the

exchange being on Friday, at the end of the School day, or

at the time when school would ordinarily let out in the event

that there is no school on Friday; …………….

……………………………………………………………

……………………………………………………………
ORDERED, that in the event that the mother does

not relocate within forty (40) miles from the father’s

residence located in Allen, Texas (and within twenty (20)

miles of Adithya’s school), the mother shall have custodial

time with the minor child, as follows:

A. On Alternating weekends from Friday, at the end of the

school day until Monday, prior to the beginning of

school, commencing during the first week of

September, 2007. Such periods of custodial time shall

take place within forty (40) miles from the father’s

residence located in Allen, Texas. In the event that

there is no school on the Friday of the mother’s

weekend, she shall have custodial time with the child

beginning at 7.00 a.m. on Friday morning, and, in the

event that there is no school on Monday of the mother’s

custodial weekend, she shall have custodial time until

5.00 p.m. on Monday, and

B. For ten (10) consecutive days during Spring vacation

from school; and

C. For the entirety of the Christmas recess from School,

except for Christmas Eve and Christmas day, which

shall be with the father. In the event that the school

recess is prior to Christmas Eve, the mother shall have

the right to have custodial time during those recessed

5

days to long as she produces the child at the father’s

residence for Christmas Eve and Christmas day ; and

D. During the following holidays:

i) Mother’s birthday, which is on April 25;
ii) Mother’s Day;

iii) Hindu Festival of Diwali and Deepavali;

iv) Adithya’s birthday (July 1) in alternating years;
v) Thanks giving in alternating years (so that the

mother has custodial time during even –

numbered years and the father has custodial

time during odd – numbered years);

vi) New Year’s Day in alternating years (so that

the mother has custodial time during even –

numbered years and the father has custodial

time during odd -numbered years) ;…………

……………..

……………………………………………………

ORDERED, that the parties shall share the

summer recess from school so that the mother has

custodial time for a total of up to fifty (50) days on a

schedule so that each party has custodial time for 4

consecutive weeks, with the mother’s custodial time

commencing on the Monday following the final day of

school……….

ORDERED, for the summer of 2007, the

mother shall have custodial time from June 18 until

June 20; the father shall have custodial time from

June 20 until June 24; the mother shall have custodial

time from June 25 until July 1; the father shall have

custodial time from July 1 until July 6; and the mother

shall then have custodial time from July 6 until

August 3 and she shall be solely responsible for

transporting the child to the father’s residence in

Allen, Texas on August 3. The father shall have

custodial time until the commencement of school.

Thereafter the father shall continue to have custodial

time until such time as the mother either a) returns

from India and/or begins her alternating weekly

6

schedule as set froth herein, or b) moves within 40

miles of the father’s residence in Allen, Texas and

commences her custodial time during alternating

weeks;………………………………

…………………………………………………….

…………………………………………………….
ORDERED, that each party agrees that they

shall provide the other parent with a phone number

and address where the child will be located at all time,

and that the other parent shall have reasonable and

regular telephone communication with the minor child;

and it is further

ORDERED, that each party agrees to provide

the other party with the child’s passport during each

custodial exchange of the minor child, and that each

party shall sign and deliver to the other, whatever

written authorization may be necessary for travel with

the child within the Continental United States or

abroad;”……………………………………….

6. On June 28, 2007 respondent no.6 brought minor Adithya
to India informing the petitioner that she would be residing with her

parents in Chennai. On August 08, 2007, the petitioner filed the

petition for modification (Custody) and Violation Petition (Custody)

before the Family Court of the State of New York on which a show

cause notice came to be issued to respondent no.6. On that very

day, the petitioner was granted temporary sole legal and physical

custody of Adithya and respondent no. 6 was directed to immediately

turn over the minor child and his passport to the petitioner and further

her custodial time with the minor child was suspended and it was

7

ordered that the issue of custody of Adithya shall be heard in the

jurisdiction of the United States Courts, specifically, the Albany

County Family Court.

7. It transpires that the Family Court of the State of New
York has issued child abuse non-bailable warrants against
respondent no.6.

8. In the backdrop of the aforenoticed facts, we have to
consider–now since the child has been produced–what should be

the appropriate order in the facts and circumstances keeping in mind

the interest of the child and the orders of the courts of the country of

which the child is a national.

9. In re B–‘s Settlement,1 Chancery Division was concerned
with an application for custody by the father of an infant who had

been made a ward of court. The father was a Belgian national and

the mother a British national who took Belgian nationality on marriage

to him. The infant was born in Belgium. The mother was granted a

divorce by a judgment of the Court in Belgium, but the judgment was

reversed and the father became entitled to custody by the common

1

{1940} Ch. 54

8

law of Belgium. The mother, who had gone to live in England, visited

Belgium and was by arrangement given the custody of the infant for

some days. She took him to England and did not return him. The

infant had been living with mother in England for nearly two years.

The father began divorce proceedings in Belgium, and the Court

appointed him guardian. Pending the proceedings, the Court gave

him the custody and ordered the mother to return the infant within

twenty-four hours of service of the order on her. She did not return

the infant. The Correctional Court in Brussels fined her for

disobedience and sentenced her to imprisonment should the fine be

not paid. The Correctional Court also confirmed the custody order.

In the backdrop of these facts, the summons taken out by the father

that custody of the infant be given to him came up before Morton, J.

who after hearing the parties and in view of the provisions of the

Guardianship of Infants Act, 1925 observed thus:

“…At the moment my feeling is very strong that, even

assuming in the father’s favour that there is nothing in his

character or habits which would render him unfitted to have

the custody of the child, the welfare of the child requires, in

all the circumstances as they exist, that he should remain in

England for the time being…………………………

9

In the present case the position is that nearly two years ago,

when the child was already in England, an interlocutory

order was made by the Divorce Court in Belgium giving the

custody of the child to the father I do not know how far, if at

all, the matter was considered on the footing of what was

best for the child at that time, or whether it was regarded as

a matter of course that the father, being the guardian by the

common law of Belgium and the applicant in the divorce

proceedings and the only parent in Belgium, should be

given the custody. I cannot regard that order as rendering

it in any way improper or contrary to the comity of nations if I

now consider, when the boy has been in this country for

nearly two years, what is in the best interests of the boy. I

do not think it would be right for the Court, exercising its

jurisdiction over a ward who is in this country, although he is

a Belgian national, blindly to follow the order made in

Belgium on October 5, 1937. I think the present case differs

from Nugent v. Vetzera {FN10}, the case that was before

Page Wood V.-C., and it is to be observed that even in that

case, and in the special circumstances of that case, the

Vice-Chancellor guarded himself against anything like

abdication of the control of this Court over its wards. It does

not appear what the Vice-Chancellor’s view would have

been if there had been evidence, for example, that it would

be most detrimental to the health and well-being of the

children if they were removed from England and sent to

Austria…………………………………………..
……..I ought to give due weight to any views formed by the

Courts of the country whereof the infant is a national. But I

desire to say quite plainly that in my view this Court is

bound in every case, without exception, to treat the

welfare of its ward as being the first and paramount

consideration, whatever orders may have been made by

the Courts of any other country.”……………… ………………

………….

10. In Mark T. Mc.Kee vs. Eyelyn McKee2, the Privy Council
was concerned with an appeal from the Supreme Court of Canada.

That was a case where the parents of the infant were American

2

{1951} A.C. 352

10

citizens. They were married in America and to whom a son was born

in California in July 1940. They separated in December 1940 and on

September 4, 1941, executed an agreement which provided,

inter- alia, that neither of them should remove the child out of the

United States without the written permission of the other. By a

judgment of December 17, 1942, in divorce proceedings before the

Superior Court of the State of California, the custody of the child was

awarded to the father. On August 1, 1945, following applications by

the father and the mother, the previous order as to custody was

modified to provide full custody of the child to the mother with right of

reasonable visitation to the father. Thereafter, and without the

consent or knowledge of the mother, the father went from the

United States of America with the child into the Province of Ontario.

The mother thereupon instituted habeas corpus proceedings in the

Supreme Court of Ontario seeking to have the child delivered to her.

Wells, J., before whom the matter came held that infant’s best
interests would be served in the custody of his father. The Court of

Appeal for Ontario dismissed the appeal preferred by the mother.

However, the Supreme Court of Canada by majority judgment

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allowed the appeal of the mother and set aside the order of custody

11

of child to the father. On appeal from the Supreme Court of Canada

at the instance of the father, the Privy Council held as follows:

“……….For, after reaffirming “the well established general

rule that in all questions relating to the custody of an infant

the paramount consideration is the welfare of the infant”,

he observed that no case had been referred to which

established the proposition that, where the facts were

such as he found them to exist in the case, the salient

features of which have been stated, a parent by the simple

expedient of taking the child with him across the border into

Ontario for the sole purpose of avoiding obedience to the

judgment of the court, whose jurisdiction he himself invoked,

becomes “entitled as of right to have the whole question

retried in our courts and to have them reach a anew and

independent judgment as to what is best for the infant”. and

it is, in effect, because he held that the father had no such

right that the judge allowed the appeal of the mother, and

that the Supreme Court made the order already referred to.

But with great respect to the judge, this was not the

question which had to be determined. It is possible that a

case might arise in which it appeared to a court, before

which the question of custody of an infant came, that it was

in the best interests of that infant that it should not look

beyond the circumstances in which its jurisdiction was

invoked and for that reason give effect to the foreign

judgment without further inquiry. But it is the negation of

the proposition, from which every judgment in this case has

proceeded, namely, that the infant’s welfare is the

paramount consideration, to say that where the trial judge

has in his discretion thought fit not to take the drastic

course above indicated, but to examine all the

circumstances and form an independent judgment, his

decision ought for that reason to be overruled. Once it is

conceded that the court of Ontario had jurisdiction to

entertain the question of custody and that it need not blindly

follow an order made by a foreign court, the consequence

cannot be escaped that it must form an independent

judgment on the question, though in doing so it will give

proper weight to the foreign judgment. What is the proper

weight will depend on the circumstances of each case. It

may be that, if the matter comes before the court of Ontario

within a very short time of the foreign judgment and there is

no new circumstance to be considered, the weight may be
12

so great that such an order as the Supreme Court made in

this case could be justified. But if so, it would be not

because the court of Ontario, having assumed jurisdiction,

then abdicated it, but because in the exercise of its

jurisdiction it determined what was for the benefit of the

infant.

It cannot be ignored that such consequences might follow as

are suggested by Cartwright, J. The disappointed parent

might meet stratagem by stratagem and, taking the child

into the Province of Manitoba, invoke the protection of its

courts, whose duty it would then be to determine the

question of custody. That is a consideration which, with

others, must be weighed by the trial judge. It is not,

perhaps, a consideration which in the present case should

have weighed heavily.

It has been said that the weight or persuasive effect of a

foreign judgment must depend on the circumstances of

each case. In the present case there was ample reason for

the trial judge, in the first place, forming the opinion that he

should not take the drastic course of following it without

independent inquiry and, in the second place, coming to a

different conclusion as to what was for the infant’s

benefit.”……………………………..

11. The aforesaid two cases came up for consideration in
Harben vs. Harben3, wherein Sachs J. observed as follows:

“It has always been the practice of this court to

ensure that a parent should not gain advantage by the use

of fraud or force in relation to the kidnapping of children

from the care of the other spouse, save perhaps where

there is some quite overwhelming reason in the children’s

interest why the status quo should not be restored by the

court before deciding further issues. In the present case I

am concerned with three young children, two of whom are

girls and the youngest is aged only three. It is a

particularly wicked thing to snatch such children from the

care of a mother, and, in saying that, I have in mind not

merely the mother’s position but the harm that can be done

3

{1957} 1. W.L.R. 261

13

to the children. No affidavit of the husband tendering

either his regrets or any vestige of excuse for his action has

been proffered. Further, as I have already mentioned, when

first I asked Mr. Syms what was the nature of the case

which he might wish to make, if so minded, for depriving

these children of a mother’s care, he only spoke of her

association with a certain man and never suggested that

she had in any way whatsoever failed to look after the

children properly.”

12. In Kernot vs. Kernot4 , the facts were thus: In May 1961,
the plaintiff mother, an Italian lady, married an English man in Italy

where both were residents. A boy was born there on March 29, 1962.

On October 19, 1963, they obtained in Italian Court a separation

order by consent providing therein that custody of the child would

remain with father, with rights of access to the mother . On October

29, 1963, the father brought the infant to England with intention to

make England his home. The mother commenced wardship

proceedings in which she brought a motion for an order that the

father return the infant to her in Italy. She also prayed for restraint

order against him from taking the infant out of her care. Buckley, J. in

these facts held thus:

“So that even where a foreign court has made an order on

the merits – which is not the present case, because the only

order which has been made was a consent order without

any investigation of the merits by the Italian court – that

domestic court before whom the matter comes (the Ontario

4

{1965} Ch.217

14

court in the case to which I have just referred, or this court

in the case before me) is bound to consider what is in the

best interests of the infant; and although the order of the

foreign court will be attended to as one of the

circumstances to be taken into account it is not conclusive

one way or the other. How much stronger must the duty of

this court be to entertain the case where the foreign court

has not made any order based on any investigation of the

case on its merits.”

13. In re H. (Infants)5, the Court of Appeal was concerned
with two American boys whose divorced parents were both citizens

of United States of America. On December 11, 1964, the Supreme

Court of New York State made a consent order directing that the

two boys whose custody had been given to the mother should be

maintained in her apartment in New York and not be removed from

a 50 miles’ radius of Peekskill without the prior written consent of

the father. However, the mother in March 1965 brought these boys

to England and bought a house for herself and children in June
1965. On June 15, 1965, the New York Court ordered the children

to be returned to New York. The mother started wardship

proceedings in the English court. The father took out motion asking

the mother that the two children should be delivered into his care,

that he should be at liberty to convey them to New York and that the

wardship of the children should be discharged. The Trial Judge held

5

(1966) 1 W.L.R. 381 = (1966) 1 All.E.R. 886

15

that the justice of the case required the children to be returned

without delay to the jurisdiction of the New York court, so that the

question of where and with whom they should live might be decided

as soon as possible by that court. The mother appealed to the Court

of Appeal. Willmer L.J. and Harman L.J. by their separate judgments

affirmed the view of the Trial Judge and held that the proper order

was to send these two boys back to their State of New York, where

they belong (and where the Supreme Court is already seized of their

case), and more especially so having regard to the fact that they

have been kept in flagrant contempt of New York Court’s order.

Willmer L.J. agreed with the remark of Cross J. where he said:

“The sudden and unauthorized removal of children from

one country to another is far too frequent nowadays, and as

it seems to me it is the duty of all courts in all countries to

do all they can to ensure that the wrongdoer does not gain

an advantage by his wrongdoing.”

Willmer L.J. went on to hold:
“The judge took the view (and I think it was the right view)

that in a case such as the present it was not necessary to

go into all the disputed questions between the parents, but

that he ought to send these boys back to their own country

to be dealt with by the court of their own country, provided

that he was satisfied (as he was satisfied, having seen the

father himself, and having had the benefit of the view

expressed on behalf of the Official Solicitor) that they would

come to no harm if the father took them back to the United

States; and that this was so, even though it might

16

subsequently turn out, after all the merits of the case had

been thoroughly thrashed out in the court in New York, that

it would perhaps be better after all for the boys to reside in

England and see little or nothing of their father.”
Harman L.J. in his separate judgment held thus:

“…….But if he chose to take the course which the judge

here took in the interests of the children , as he thought, of

sending them back to the United States with no more inquiry

into the matter than to ensure, so far as he could, that there

was no danger to their moral or physical health in taking that

course, I am of opinion that he was amply justified, and that

that was the right way in which to approach the issue.
These children had been the subject of an order (it

is true made by consent) made in the courts of their own

country in December, 1964. It was only three months later

that the mother flouted that order, deceived her own

advisers and deceived the court , and brought the children

here with the object of taking them right out of their father’s

life and depriving him altogether of their society. The interval

is so short that it seems to me that the court inevitably was

bound to view the matter through those spectacles; that is to

say, that the order having been made so shortly before, and

there being no difference in the circumstances in the three

months which had elapsed , there was no justification for

the course which the mother had taken, and that she was

not entitled to seek to bolster her own wrong by seeking

the assistance of this court in perpetuating that position, and

seeking to change the situation to the father’s disadvantage.”

14. In re. L (minors)6, the Court of Appeal was

concerned with the custody of the foreign children who were

removed from foreign jurisdiction by one parent. That was a

case where a German national domiciled and resident in

Germany married an English woman. Their matrimonial home

6

(1974) 1 All ER 913

17

was Germany and the two children were born out of the

wedlock and brought up in Germany. The lady became

unhappy in her married life and in August, 1972, she brought

her children to England with an intention of permanently

establishing herself and the children in England. She obtained

residential employment in the school in England and the

children were accommodated at the school. The children not

having returned to Germany, the father came to England to find

them. On October 25, 1972, the mother issued an originating

summons making them wards of court. The trial judge found

that the children should be brought up by their mother and

treating the case as a `kidnapping’ class of case, approached

the matter by observing that in such a case where the children

were foreign children, who had moved in a foreign home, their

life should continue in what were their natural surroundings,

unless it appeared to the court that it would be harmful to the

children if they were returned. He concluded that in view of the

arrangements which their father could make for them, the

children would not be harmed by being returned. He,

accordingly, ordered that they be returned to Germany and that

18

they remain in their father’s custody until further order. The

mother appealed, contending that in every case the welfare of

the child was the first and paramount consideration and that the

welfare of the children would be best served by staying with

their mother in England. Buckley, LJ in his detailed
consideration of the matter, wherein he referred to the

aforenoticed decisions and few other decisions as well, held as

follows :
“…….Where the court has embarked on a full-scale

investigation of that facts, the applicable principles, in my view, do

not differ from those which apply to any other wardship case. The

action of one party in kidnapping the child is doubtless one of the

circumstances to be taken into account, any may be a

circumstance of great weight; the weight to be attributed to it must

depend on the circumstances of the particular case. The court may

conclude that notwithstanding the conduct of the `kidnapper’ the

child should remain in his or her care (McKee v. McKee, Re E (an

infant) and Re. T.A. (infants), where the order was merely interim);

or it may conclude that the child should be returned to his or her

native country or the jurisdiction from which he or she has been

removed. Where a court makes a summary order for the return of a

child to a foreign country without investigating the merits, the same

principles, in my judgment apply, but the decision must be justified

on somewhat different grounds.

……………………………………………………………………

………..The judge may well be persuaded that it would be better for

the child that those merits should be investigated in a court in his

native country than that he should spend in this country the period

which must necessarily elapse before all the evidence can be

assembled for adjudication here. Anyone who has had experience

of the exercise of this delicate jurisdiction knows what

complications can result from a child developing roots in new soil,

and what conflicts this can occasion in the child’s own life. Such

roots can grow rapidly. An order that the child should be returned

forthwith to the country from which he has been removed in the

expectation that any dispute about his custody will be satisfactorily

19

resolved in the courts of that country may well be regarded as

being in the best interests of the child……”

15. In re. L. (minors)6, the Court of Appeal has made a
distinction between cases, where the court considers the facts and

fully investigates the merits of a dispute, in a wardship matter in

which the welfare of the child concerned is not the only consideration

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but is the first and paramount consideration, and cases where the

court do not embark on a full-scale investigation of the facts and

make a summary order for the return of a child to a foreign country

without investigating the merits. In this regard, Buckley, L.J. noticed

what was indicated by the Privy Council in McKee v. McKee2 that

there may be cases in which it is proper for a court in one jurisdiction

to make an order directing that a child be returned to a foreign

jurisdiction without investigating the merits of the dispute relating to

the care of the child on the ground that such an order is in the best

interest of the child.

16. This Court in Smt. Surinder Kaur Sandhu v. Harbax Singh
Sandhu and Another7 was concerned with the custody of a child–

British citizen by birth–to the parents of Indian citizens, who after

7

(1984) 3 SCC 698

20

their marriage settled in England. The child was removed by the

husband from the house when the wife was in the factory where she

was working and brought him to India. The wife obtained an order

under Section 41(English) Supreme Court Act, 1981 whereby the

husband was directed to handover the custody of the boy to her. The

said order was later on confirmed by the High Court in England. The

wife then came to India and filed a writ petition under Article 226 in

the High Court praying for production and custody of the child. The

High Court dismissed her writ petition against which the wife

appealed before this Court. Y.V. Chandrachud, C.J. (as he then was)

speaking for the Court held thus :

“The modern theory of Conflict of Laws recognises and, in

any event, prefers the jurisdiction of the State which has the most

intimate contact with the issues arising in the case. Jurisdiction is

not attracted by the operation or creation of fortuitous

circumstances such as the circumstance as to where the child,

whose custody is in issue, is brought or for the time being lodged.

To allow the assumption of jurisdiction by another State in such

circumstances will only result in encouraging forum-shopping.

Ordinarily, jurisdiction must follow upon functional lines. That is to

say, for example, that in matters relating to matrimony and custody,

the law of that place must govern which has the closest concern

with the well-being of the spouses and the welfare of the offsprings

of marriage. The spouses in this case had made England their

home where this boy was born to them. The father cannot deprive

the English Court of its jurisdiction to decide upon his custody by

removing him to India, not in the normal movement of the

matrimonial home but, by an act which was gravely detrimental to

the peace of that home. The fact that the matrimonial home of the

spouses was in England, establishes sufficient contacts or ties with

that State in order to make it reasonable and just for the courts of

that State to assume jurisdiction to enforce obligations which were

21

incurred therein by the spouses. (See International Shoe Company

v. State of Washington which was not a matrimonial case but which

is regarded as the fountainhead of the subsequent developments of

jurisdictional issues like the one involved in the instant case.) It is

our duty and function to protect the wife against the burden of

litigating in an inconvenient forum which she and her husband had

left voluntarily in order to make their living in England, where they

gave birth to this unfortunate boy.”

17. In Mrs. Elizabeth Dinshaw v. Arvand M. Dinshaw and
Another8, this Court held that it was the duty of courts in all countries

to see that a parent doing wrong by removing children out of the

country does not gain any advantage by his or her wrongdoing. In

para 9 of the report, this Court considered the decision of the Court of

Appeal in re H.5 and approved the same in the following words:

“9. In Re H. (infants) [(1966) 1 All ER 886] the Court of

Appeal in England had occasion to consider a somewhat similar

question. That case concerned the abduction to England of two

minor boys who were American citizens. The father was a natural-

born American citizen and the mother, though of Scottish origin,

had been resident for 20 years in the United States of America.

They were divorced in 1953 by a decree in Mexico, which

embodied provisions entrusting the custody of the two boys to the

mother with liberal access to the father. By an amendment made in

that order in December 1964, a provision was incorporated that the

boys should reside at all times in the State of New York and should

at all times be under the control and jurisdiction of the State of New

York. In March 1965, the mother removed the boys to England,

without having obtained the approval of the New York court, and

without having consulted the father; she purchased a house in

England with the intention of remaining there permanently and of

cutting off all contacts with the father. She ignored an order made in

June 1965, by the Supreme Court of New York State to return the

boys there. On a motion on notice given by the father in the

Chancery Division of the Court in England, the trial Judge Cross, J.

directed that since the children were American children and the

8

(1987) 1 SCC 42

22

American court was the proper court to decide the issue of custody,

and as it was the duty of courts in all countries to see that a parent

doing wrong by removing children out of their country did not gain

any advantage by his or her wrongdoing, the court without going

into the merits of the question as to where and with whom the

children should live, would order that the children should go back to

America. In the appeal filed against the said judgment in the Court

of Appeal, Willmer, L.J. while dismissing the appeal extracted with

approval the following passage from the judgment of Cross, J.

[(1965) 3 All ER at p. 912. (Ed. : Source of the second quoted para

could not be traced.)]:

“The sudden and unauthorised removal of children from one

country to another is far too frequent nowadays, and as it

seems to me, it is the duty of all courts in all countries to do

all they can to ensure that the wrongdoer does not gain an

advantage by his wrongdoing.

The courts in all countries ought, as I see it, to be careful not

to do anything to encourage this tendency. This substitution

of self-help for due process of law in this field can only harm

the interests of wards generally, and a Judge should, as I

see it, pay regard to the orders of the proper foreign court

unless he is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that to do so

would inflict serious harm on the child.”

10. With respect we are in complete agreement with the aforesaid

enunciation of the principles of law to be applied by the courts in

situations such as this.”

18. In the case of Dhanwanti Joshi v. Madhav Unde9, this
Court was again concerned with the matter relating to removal of a

child from one country to another contrary to custody order of the

court from where the child was removed. This court considered

English decisions, inter alia, McKee v. McKee2 and H. (infants), re.5

and also noticed the decision of this Court in Mrs. Elizabeth Dinshaw8

and observed as follows :

9

(1998) 1 SCC 112

23

“28. The leading case in this behalf is the one rendered by

the Privy Council in 1951, in McKee v. McKee [(1951) AC 352]. In

that case, the parties, who were American citizens, were married in

USA in 1933 and lived there till December 1946. But they had

separated in December 1940. On 17-12-1941, a decree of divorce

was passed in USA and custody of the child was given to the father

and later varied in favour of the mother. At that stage, the father

took away the child to Canada. In habeas corpus proceedings by

the mother, though initially the decisions of lower courts went

against her, the Supreme Court of Canada gave her custody but

the said Court held that the father could not have the question of

custody retried in Canada once the question was adjudicated in

favour of the mother in the USA earlier. On appeal to the Privy

Council, Lord Simonds held that in proceedings relating to custody

before the Canadian Court, the welfare and happiness of the infant

was of paramount consideration and the order of a foreign court in

USA as to his custody can be given due weight in the

circumstances of the case, but such an order of a foreign court was

only one of the facts which must be taken into consideration. It was

further held that it was the duty of the Canadian Court to form an

independent judgment on the merits of the matter in regard to the

welfare of the child. The order of the foreign court in US would yield

to the welfare of the child. “Comity of courts demanded not its

enforcement, but its grave consideration”. This case arising from

Canada which lays down the law for Canada and U.K. has been

consistently followed in latter cases. This view was reiterated by the

House of Lords in J v. C (1970 AC 668). This is the law also in USA

(see 24 American Jurisprudence, para 1001) and Australia. (See

Khamis v. Khamis [(1978) 4 Fam LR 410 (Full Court) (Aus)].

29. However, there is an apparent contradiction between the above

view and the one expressed in H. (infants), Re[(1966) 1 All ER 886]

and in E. (an infant), Re [(1967) 1 All ER 881] to the effect that the

court in the country to which the child is removed will send back the

child to the country from which the child has been removed. This

apparent conflict was explained and resolved by the Court of

Appeal in 1974 in L. (minors) (wardship : jurisdiction), Re [(1974) 1

All ER 913, CA] and in R. (minors) (wardship : jurisdiction), Re

[(1981) 2 FLR 416 (CA)]. It was held by the Court of Appeal in L.,

Re [(1974) 1 All ER 913, CA] that the view in McKee v. McKee

[1951 A.C. 352 : (1951) All ER 942] is still the correct view and that

the limited question which arose in the latter decisions was whether

the court in the country to which the child was removed could

conduct (a) a summary inquiry or (b) an elaborate inquiry on the

question of custody. In the case of (a) a summary inquiry, the court

would return custody to the country from which the child was

24

removed unless such return could be shown to be harmful to the

child. In the case of (b) an elaborate inquiry, the court could go into

the merits as to where the permanent welfare lay and ignore the

order of the foreign court or treat the fact of removal of the child

from another country as only one of the circumstances. The crucial

question as to whether the Court (in the country to which the child

is removed) would exercise the summary or elaborate procedure is

to be determined according to the child’s welfare. The summary

jurisdiction to return the child is invoked, for example, if the child

had been removed from its native land and removed to another

country where, maybe, his native language is not spoken, or the

child gets divorced from the social customs and contacts to which

he has been accustomed, or if its education in his native land is

interrupted and the child is being subjected to a foreign system of

education, — for these are all acts which could psychologically

disturb the child. Again the summary jurisdiction is exercised only if

the court to which the child has been removed is moved promptly

and quickly, for in that event, the Judge may well be persuaded that

it would be better for the child that those merits should be

investigated in a court in his native country on the expectation that

an early decision in the native country could be in the interests of

the child before the child could develop roots in the country to

which he had been removed. Alternatively, the said court might

think of conducting an elaborate inquiry on merits and have regard

to the other facts of the case and the time that has lapsed after the

removal of the child and consider if it would be in the interests of

the child not to have it returned to the country from which it had

been removed. In that event, the unauthorised removal of the child

from the native country would not come in the way of the court in

the country to which the child has been removed, to ignore the

removal and independently consider whether the sending back of

the child to its native country would be in the paramount interests of

the child. (See Rayden & Jackson, 15th Edn., 1988, pp. 1477-79;

Bromley, Family law, 7th Edn., 1987.) In R. (minors) (wardship :

jurisdiction), Re [(1981) 2 FLR 416 (CA)] it has been firmly held

that the concept of forum conveniens has no place in wardship

jurisdiction.
30. We may here state that this Court in Elizabeth Dinshaw v.

Arvand M. Dinshaw [(1987) 1 SCC 42 : 1987 SCC (Crl.) 13] while

dealing with a child removed by the father from USA contrary to the

custody orders of the US Court directed that the child be sent back

to USA to the mother not only because of the principle of comity but

also because, on facts, — which were independently considered —

it was in the interests of the child to be sent back to the native

State. There the removal of the child by the father and the mother’s

25

application in India were within six months. In that context, this

Court referred to H. (infants), Re which case, as pointed out by us

above has been explained in L. Re as a case where the Court

thought it fit to exercise its summary jurisdiction in the interests of

the child. Be that as it may, the general principles laid down in

McKee v. McKee and J v. C and the distinction between summary

and elaborate inquiries as stated in L. (infants), Re are today well

settled in UK, Canada, Australia and the USA. The same principles

apply in our country. Therefore nothing precludes the Indian courts

from considering the question on merits, having regard to the delay

from 1984 — even assuming that the earlier orders passed in India

do not operate as constructive res judicata.”
However, in view of the fact that the child had lived with his
mother in India for nearly twelve years, this Court held that it would

not exercise a summary jurisdiction to return the child to United

States of America on the ground that its removal from USA in 1984

was contrary to orders of U.S. Courts. It was also held that whenever

a question arises before a court pertaining to the custody of a minor

child, matter is to be decided not on considerations of the legal rights

of the parties but on the sole and predominant criterion of what would

best serve the interest of the minor.

19. In the case of Sarita Sharma v. Sushil Sharma10, this
Court was seized with a matter where the mother had removed the

children from U.S.A. despite the order of the American Court. It was

held :

10

(2000) 3 SCC 14

26

“6. Therefore, it will not be proper to be guided entirely by

the fact that the appellant Sarita had removed the children from

U.S.A. despite the order of the Court of that country. So also, in

READ  Women Protection vs. Women Empowerment

view of the facts and circumstances of the case, the decree passed

by the American Court though a relevant factor, cannot override the

consideration of welfare of the minor children. We have already

stated earlier that in U.S.A. respondent Sushil is staying along with

his mother aged about 80 years. There is no one else in the family.

The respondent appears to be in the habit of taking excessive

alcohol. Though it is true that both the children have American

citizenship and there is a possibility that in U.S.A they may be able

to get better education, it is doubtful if the respondent will be in a

position to take proper care of the children when they are so young.

Out of them, one is a female child. She is aged about 5 years.

Ordinarily, a female child should be allowed to remain with the

mother so that she can be properly looked after. It is also not

desirable that two children are separated from each other. If a

female child has to stay with the mother, it will be in the interest of

both the children that they both stay with the mother. Here in India

also proper care of the children is taken and they are at present

studying in good schools. We have not found the appellant wanting

in taking proper care of the children. Both the children have a

desire to stay with the mother. At the same time it must be said that

the son, who is elder then the daughter, has good feelings for his

father also. Considering all the aspects relating to the welfare of the

children, we are of the opinion that in spite of the order passed by

the Court in U.S.A. it was not proper for the High Court to have

allowed the habeas corpus writ petition and directed the appellant

to hand over custody of the children to the respondent and permit

him to take them away to U.S.A. What would be in the interest of

the children requires a full and thorough inquiry and, therefore, the

High Court should have directed the respondent to initiate

appropriate proceedings in which such an inquiry can be held. Still

there is some possibility of the mother returning to U.S.A. in the

interest of the children. Therefore, we do not desire to say anything

more regarding entitlement of the custody of the children. The

chances of the appellant returning to U.S.A. with the children would

depend upon the joint efforts of the appellant and the respondent to

get the arrest warrant cancelled by explaining to the Court in U.S.A.

the circumstances under which she had left U.S.A. with the children

without taking permission of the Court. There is a possibility that

both of them may thereafter be able to approach the Court which

passed the decree to suitably modify the order with respect to the

custody of the children and visitation rights.”

27

20. While dealing with a case of custody of a child removed
by a parent from one country to another in contravention to the orders

of the court where the parties had set up their matrimonial home, the

court in the country to which child has been removed must first

consider the question whether the court could conduct an elaborate

enquiry on the question of custody or by dealing with the matter

summarily order a parent to return custody of the child to the country

from which the child was removed and all aspects relating to child’s

welfare be investigated in a court in his own country. Should the court

take a view that an elaborate enquiry is necessary, obviously the

court is bound to consider the welfare and happiness of the child as

the paramount consideration and go into all relevant aspects of

welfare of child including stability and security, loving and

understanding care and guidance and full development of the child’s

character, personality and talents. While doing so, the order of a

foreign court as to his custody may be given due weight; the weight

and persuasive effect of a foreign judgment must depend on the

circumstances of each case. However, in a case where the court

decides to exercise its jurisdiction summarily to return the child to his

own country, keeping in view the jurisdiction of the Court in the native

28

country which has the closest concern and the most intimate contact

with the issues arising in the case, the court may leave the aspects

relating to the welfare of the child to be investigated by the court in

his own native country as that could be in the best interest of the

child. The indication given in McKee v. McKee2 that there may be

cases in which it is proper for a court in one jurisdiction to make an

order directing that a child be returned to a foreign jurisdiction without

investigating the merits of the dispute relating to the care of the child

on the ground that such an order is in the best interest of the child

has been explained in re. L (minors)6 and the said view has been

approved by this Court in Dhanwanti Joshi9. Similar view taken by the

Court of Appeal in re. H5 has been approved by this Court in

Elizabeth Dinshaw8.

21. Do the facts and circumstances of the present case
warrant an elaborate enquiry into the question of custody of minor

Adithya and should the parties be relegated to the said procedure

before appropriate forum in this country in this regard? In our

judgment, this is not required. Admittedly, Adithya is an American

citizen, born and brought up in United States of America. He has

spent his initial years there. The natural habitat of Adithya is in United

29

States of America. As a matter of fact, keeping in view the welfare

and happiness of the child and in his best interest, the parties have

obtained series of consent orders concerning his custody/parenting

rights, maintenance etc. from the competent courts of jurisdiction in

America. Initially, on April 18, 2005, a consent order governing the

issues of custody and guardianship of minor Adithya was passed by

the New York State Supreme Court whereunder the court granted

joint custody of the child to the petitioner and respondent no. 6 and it

was stipulated in the order to keep the other party informed about the

whereabouts of the child. In a separation agreement entered into

between the parties on July 28, 2005, the consent order dated April

18, 2005 regarding custody of minor son Adithya continued. In

September 8, 2005 order whereby the marriage between the

petitioner and respondent no. 6 was dissolved by the New York State

Supreme Court, again the child custody order dated April 18, 2005

was incorporated. Then the petitioner and respondent no. 6 agreed

for modification of the custody order and, accordingly, the Family

Court of the State of New York on June 18, 2007 ordered that the

parties shall share joint legal and physical custody of the minor

Adithya and, in this regard, a comprehensive arrangement in respect

30

of the custody of the child has been made. The fact that all orders

concerning the custody of the minor child Adithya have been passed

by American courts by consent of the parties shows that the

objections raised by respondent no. 6 in counter affidavit about

deprivation of basic rights of the child by the petitioner in the past;

failure of petitioner to give medication to the child; denial of education

to the minor child; deprivation of stable environment to the minor

child; and child abuse are hollow and without any substance. The

objection raised by the respondent no. 6 in the counter affidavit that

the American courts which passed the order/decree had no

jurisdiction and being inconsistent to Indian laws cannot be executed

in India also prima facie does not seem to have any merit since

despite the fact that the respondent no. 6 has been staying in India

for more than two years, she has not pursued any legal proceeding

for the sole custody of the minor Adithya or for declaration that the

orders passed by the American courts concerning the custody of

minor child Adithya are null and void and without jurisdiction. Rather

it transpires from the counter affidavit that initially respondent no. 6

initiated the proceedings under Guardianship and Wards Act but later

on withdrew the same. The facts and circumstances noticed above

31

leave no manner of doubt that merely because the child has been

brought to India by respondent no. 6, the custody issue concerning

minor child Adithya does not deserve to be gone into by the courts in

India and it would be in accord with principles of comity as well as on

facts to return the child back to the United States of America from

where he has been removed and enable the parties to establish the

case before the courts in the native State of the child, i.e. United

States of America for modification of the existing custody orders.

There is nothing on record which may even remotely suggest that it

would be harmful for the child to be returned to his native country.

22. It is true that child Adithya has been in India for almost
two years since he was removed by the mother–respondent no. 6

–contrary to the custody orders of the U.S. court passed by consent

of the parties. It is also true that one of the factors to be kept in mind

in exercise of summary jurisdiction in the interest of child is that

application for custody/return of the child is made promptly and

quickly after the child has been removed. This is so because any

delay may result in child developing roots in the country to which he

has been removed. From the counter affidavit that has been filed by

respondent no. 6, it is apparent that in last two years child Adithya did

32

not have education at one place. He has moved from one school to

another. He was admitted in school at Dehradun by respondent no. 6

but then removed within few months. In the month of June, 2009, the

child has been admitted in some school at Chennai. As a matter of

fact, the minor child Adithya and respondent no. 6 could not be traced

and their whereabouts could not be found for more than two years

since the notice was issued by this Court. The respondent no. 6 and

the child has been moving from one State to another. The parents of

respondent no. 6 have filed an affidavit before this Court denying any

knowledge or awareness of the whereabouts of respondent no. 6 and

minor child Adithya ever since they left in September, 2007. In these

circumstances, there has been no occasion for the child developing

roots in this country. Moreover, the present habeas corpus petition

has been filed by the petitioner promptly and without any delay, but

since the respondent no. 6 has been moving from one State to

another and her whereabouts were not known, the notice could not

be served and child could not be produced for more than two years.

23. In a case such as the present one, we are satisfied that
return of minor Adithya to United States of America, for the time

being, from where he has been removed and brought here would be

33

in the best interest of the child and also such order is justified in view

of the assurances given by the petitioner that he would bear all the

traveling expenses and make living arrangements for respondent no.

6 in the United Sates of America till the necessary orders are passed

by the competent court; that the petitioner would comply with the

custody/parenting rights as per consent order dated June 18, 2007 till

such time as the competent court in United States of America takes a

further decision; that the petitioner will request that the warrants

against respondent no. 6 be dropped; that the petitioner will not file or

pursue any criminal charges for violation by respondent no. 6 of the

consent order in the United States of America and that if any

application is filed by respondent no. 6 in the competent court in

United States of America, the petitioner shall cooperate in expeditious

hearing of such application. The petitioner has also stated that he has

obtained confirmation from Martha Hunt Elementary School, Murphy,

Texas, 75094, that minor son Adithya will be admitted to school

forthwith.

24. The learned Senior Counsel for respondent no. 6 sought
to raise an objection regarding the maintainability of habeas corpus

petition under Article 32 of the Constitution before this Court but we

34

are not persuaded to accept the same. Suffice it to say that in the

peculiar facts and circumstances of the case which have already

been noticed above and the order that we intend to pass, invocation

of jurisdiction of this Court under Article 32 cannot be said to be

inappropriate.

25. We record our appreciation for the work done by the
concerned officers/officials of CBI in tracing the minor child Adithya

and producing him in less than two months of the order passed by

this Court, although, the Police Officers and Officials of different

States failed in tracing the child Adithya and respondent no. 6 for

more than two years. But for the earnest efforts on the part of the CBI

authorities, it would not have been possible for this Court to hear and

decide this habeas corpus petition involving the sensitive issue

concerning a child of seven years who is a foreign national.

26. In the result and for the reasons stated, we pass the
following order :
(i) The respondent no. 6 shall act as per the consent

order dated June 18, 2007 passed by the Family Court of the
State of New York till such time any further order is passed on

35

the petition that may be moved by the parties henceforth and,

accordingly, she will take the child Adithya of her own to the

United States of America within fifteen days from today and

report to that court.
(ii) The petitioner shall bear all the traveling expenses
of the respondent no. 6 and minor child Adithya and make

arrangements for the residence of respondent no. 6 in the

United States of America till further orders are passed by the

competent court.
(iii) The petitioner shall request the authorities that the

warrants against respondent no. 6 be dropped. He shall not file

or pursue any criminal charges for violation by respondent no. 6

of the consent order in the United States of America.

(iv) The respondent no. 6 shall furnish her address and

contact number in India to the CBI authorities and also inform

them in advance the date and flight details of her departure

along with child Adithya for United States of America.

(v) In the event of respondent no. 6 not taking the child

Adithya of her own to United States of America within fifteen

days from today, child Adithya with his passport shall be

36

restored to the custody of the petitioner to be taken to United
States of America. The child will be a ward of the concerned
court that passed the consent order dated June 18, 2007. It will
be open to respondent no. 6 to move that court for a review of
the custody of the child, if so advised.

(vi) The parties shall bear their own costs.

………………

……J (Tarun Chatterjee)

……………….

…..J

(R. M. Lodha)

……………………J

(Dr. B.S. Chauhan)

New Delhi

November 17, 2009.

37

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