Custody fight: Man in limbo in Britain

Court throws out compensation suit for being wrongfully jailed; child still in S'pore

A Singaporean bank executive's troubled stint in England continued as a London court rejected his claim for compensation, despite being wrongfully jailed for two months by a British judge.

The man has been stuck in London since 2013 as he fights a bitter custody battle with his Mongolian former wife for their three-year-old son. He was forced to spend 63 days in jail after he failed to ensure that the child, who is in Singapore with his parents, was returned to England, as directed by a court.

Another court set him free.

But his suit for compensation from the British government has now been thrown out. The court accepted that Justice Jennifer Roberts had made errors in jailing him but made clear that these mistakes were not exceptional enough to justify any compensation.

The man, whose passport has been impounded, will continue having to remain in London until the boy returns there.

He and his former wife met in Singapore in 2010, and married here a year later. They then lived in London where he worked. The child was born in July 2012 but the marriage began to falter and he was taken to Singapore to live with his grandparents. The couple returned to England without him in 2013.

The father later filed for divorce in Singapore while she did the same in England. She also alleged he had assaulted her. After a British judge ruled that the son's habitual home is London, she obtained a court order for his return there.

She also hired Child Abduction Recovery International, which specialises in returning children to their parents for a fee, to help her enter Singapore illegally to take the boy by force.

The firm's managing director, Briton Adam Christopher Whittington, hired an Australian's catamaran in Langkawi, Malaysia, and both sailed with the woman to Raffles Marina under the cover of darkness in August last year.

All three were arrested and convicted. The woman and the Australian each got 10 weeks' jail, while Whittington was jailed for 16 weeks.

Back in London, the boy's father was jailed for 18 months for contempt in April last year. But a British appeals court ruled in June last year that the judge was wrong and should have recused herself from hearing the case.

The man then sued the Lord Chancellor, seeking compensation for alleged unlawful detention. Based on the European Convention on Human Rights, a person can be compensated if there is a "gross and obvious irregularity".

In his grounds of judgment released last week, Justice David Foskett expressed sympathy for the family court judge who dealt with the case, given the "emotional complexities and family dynamics".

He said there were errors "but the context in which they were made needs to be re-emphasised: the judge was dealing with a father who had deceived the mother of a very young child into permitting the child to be taken out of the jurisdiction, many thousands of miles from where he was born".

Justice Foskett said it was plain that the family court judge made her decision with the boy's interest at heart. He added that it would be "unfair" to categorise the judge's errors as involving a "gross and obvious procedural irregularity".

Last night, the London-based father said he has been acquitted of all five criminal charges brought against him by his former wife after a four-day trial that began on Oct 19. He said his son is still in Singapore with the grandparents.

The custody tussle is ongoing.

•Additional reporting by Lim Yi Han

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 13, 2015, with the headline 'Custody fight: Man in limbo in Britain'. Print Edition | Subscribe