In one case, two children brought unlawfully from Poland by their father and uncle, were found living in a makeshift shelter by a live railway line in England.

In another, two British children were kept in Kenya by their maternal grandparents following the funeral of their mother, and the father sought help for their return.

As head of international family justice for England and Wales, Thorpe LJ leads a team of lawyers whose role is to offer advice and support in cross-border child custody disputes and abductions, where a parent may have fled the country with their children.

His office handled 27 cases in 2007, rising to 92 in 2010 and 180 last year – figures for this year suggest the numbers are still climbing.
Writing in the preface to their annual report, Thorpe LJ and Victoria Miller, the lawyer who assists him, noted that 65% of children born in London in 2010 had at least one foreign parent.

“These figures illustrate the potential for significant future growth in international family litigation,” they said.

They highlight “the often unforgivable delays in Hague Convention cases. Where judgment should be issued within six weeks it takes on average 165 days between Brussells II bis States and 215 days where neither state was a Brussells bis State.”

Clare Renton international family law barrister and patron of Reunite, said: “In the last 10 years there has been a great increase in international movement of labour.

“Education of lawyers overseas remains a serious problem. Many respondents have been told by local lawyers that there is nothing to stop them from bringing the children back to England without the father’s permission.”