Fact finding hearing: Dubai’s princesses

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (hereafter referred to as ‘the Sheikh’), who is vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of Dubai, has been subject to a reputationally damaging fact-finding hearing in private children proceedings with his ex-wife, Princess Haya of Jordan.

These proceedings concern an original application made by the Sheikh following Princess Haya’s flee to London in 2019 with two of the Sheikh’s 25 children. Princess Haya subsequently made her own applications in order to protect her two young children and in doing so made several allegations of abduction and torture. Princess Haya asserted that these allegations were committed by the Sheikh not only against herself but against two of the Sheikh’s adult children, Princess Shamsa and Princess Latifa.

The two pertinent allegations included the infamous case of Princess Shamsa being unlawfully abducted from Cambridge in 2000 and forcefully returned to Dubai. She was 19 years old. Princess Shamsa has not been seen in public since this time.

Another allegation included Princess Latifa’s highly publicised escape attempt from Dubai in 2018. The vessel she was travelling on was subsequently intercepted by the Indian special forces under the Sheikh’s orders and Princess Latifa was forcefully returned to Dubai. Princess Latifa has been seen by the public only once since this date however the status of her liberty and freedom has yet to be confirmed.

Following these allegations, the Sheikh refused to attend any hearing or engage with the process by way of evidence. The Sheikh attempted to surpass the court’s procedural requirements by suggesting that Sir Andrew McFarlane (the judge in this matter) treat the allegations as truth so he could avoid giving evidence on the same. The court refused this request and proceeded with the fact finding hearing.

What is a fact finding hearing?

This is a hearing ordered by the court to determine specific important facts about a case when those facts are in dispute between the parties. These normally include allegations of domestic abuse such as the causation of a child’s injuries. The court will order that those facts must be established at an early stage in proceedings in order to facilitate the final determination of the matter. In short, the court will make a decision as to when an allegation should be treated as having happened or not.

A fact finding hearing is pertinent to distinguish between serious allegations which, if proven, will have a demonstrable impact on the welfare of the child(ren) and the subsequent order made by the court. This is comparable with those “less serious allegations” which the court determines will have little to no impact on the outcome of the proceedings.

At a fact finding hearing the burden proof falls on the person making the allegations, with the standard of proof being the balance of probabilities. This is in stark comparison with the standard of proof in criminal proceedings namely, beyond reasonable doubt.

The outcome of the fact finding hearing

In this case, the court was required to consider whether the allegations made by Princess Haya against the Sheikh were to be treated as proven facts before the court could make any further orders in respect of the two children.

In this specific judgment Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, concluded that the Sheikh “ordered and orchestrated” the unlawful abduction and forceful return of Princess Shamsa and Princess Latifa and subjected his wife, Princess Haya, to a campaign of “intimidation”.

Sir Andrew McFarlane also made it extremely clear that he was of the opinion that both Princess Shamsa and Princess Latifa had not been given free choice about engaging in the court process.

The next steps

The court has determined that Princess Haya’s allegations are proven and therefore treated as facts for the purpose of the children proceedings. The next step is for the court to assess what the impact of the findings of unlawful abduction, forceful return and intimidation has on the children subject to these proceedings. The court will need to determine what risk the children may be exposed to by being removed from Princess Haya’s care and returned to Dubai (under the care of the Sheikh) against her will.

Whilst the nature of the allegations referred to above are extreme, fact finding proceedings do take place in many private children proceedings. If you are involved in any kind of private children proceedings, please do contact us in order to arrange an initial consultation with one of our experienced and specialist solicitors who can assist you with your matter.