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Child abduction laws ‘need reform’

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The laws surrounding child abduction require reform, the Law Commission has declared.

In a newly published report, the Commission sets out recommended changes to the law surrounding the abduction of children.

These would make the prosecution of parents who take children abroad easier to accomplish, the report states. Currently parents who travel overseas with their children with the permission of the other parent but then do not return them are not guilty of child abduction under the law – only parents who have no permission when they initially travel have committed an offence.

The Commission recommends that this loophole be addressed and the law changed so that parents who travel with permission but then do not return to the UK can also be prosecuted.

In addition the Law Commission recommends an increase in the maximum prison sentence for child abduction, from seven years to 14. Seven years had been criticised as too lenient for the most serious child abduction offences.

At least 300 children are kept overseas by parents each year, said David Ormerod QC, a Professor and Law Commissioner. Wrongful separation of children from the parent left behind is “devastating”, he added.

“An opportunity exists to introduce reforms that will modernise and simplify this area of law, and allow the courts to deal adequately and appropriately with offenders.”

His sentiments were echoed by Alison Shalaby, the Chief Executive Officer of international child abduction charity reunite.

“In the interests of children, left-behind parents, and of justice, there could and should be a change to legislation so that all left-behind parents have access to the assistance of the police, the criminal process and statutory authorities to ensure the swift resolution of cases of wrongful retention.”

The Commission also recommended changes to kidnapping and false imprisonment laws.

Read the full report, entitled Simplification of Criminal Law: Kidnapping and Related Offences, here.

The Law Commission is a statutory organisation established to review the law of England and Wales and recommend reform. Earlier this year it launched a major review of the law surrounding ‘deprivation of liberty’, a legal concept which involves people unable to make their own welfare decisions.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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