40th Anniversary of the Child Abduction and Access to Justice Conventions

On 25 October 2020, two HCCH Conventions celebrate their respective 40th anniversaries, following adoption at the Fourteenth Session: the 1980 Child Abduction Convention and the 1980 Access to Justice Convention.

The Child Abduction Convention has become one of the most visible HCCH Conventions since its entry into force on 1 December 1983. The Convention aims to protect children from the harmful effects of wrongful removal and retention. At its 40th anniversary, it counts more than a hundred Contracting Parties that span every continent.

The Child Abduction Convention is a crucial instrument for the international protection of children. It establishes a mechanism of cooperation between Central Authorities, ensuring a rapid procedure for the return of a wrongfully removed or retained child to the State of his or her habitual residence. The framework of protection that the Convention has put in place also acts as a deterrent to international child abductions. The Convention gives effect to the fundamental rights of the child, for instance, to maintain contact with his or her parents.

The six Guides to Good Practice under the Child Abduction Convention published by the HCCH have touched upon different topics such as mediation, enforcement and the exception of non-return provided for in Article 13(1)(b). The Convention has inspired the establishment of the ‘Malta process’, the International Hague Network of Judges, and a case law database on international child abduction (INCADAT).

The Access to Justice Convention facilitates, as its name suggests, access to judicial services for nationals of, or persons habitually resident in, a Contracting Party. Having entered into force on 1 May 1988, the Convention counts 28 Contracting Parties to date. It is regarded as a complement to the 1965 Service Convention and the 1970 Evidence Convention.

The main purpose of the Convention is to preclude discrimination in the provision of legal aid and advice on grounds of nationality or habitual residence, as well as to improve the transmission of legal aid requests from one State to another. The Convention also precludes discrimination with respect to security for costs, access to copies or extracts from public registers, and physical detention, in addition to providing safeguards for witnesses and experts.

Among its many benefits, the Access to Justice Convention may assist States in their efforts to advance Goal 16.3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, aimed at promoting the rule of law at the national and international levels and ensuring equal access to justice for all.