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Judges must consider interests of child when sentencing mother, urges Committee

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has tabled new clauses to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to protect right to family life of children when their mother is sentenced.

The new clauses would:

In a new report – Children of mothers in prison and the right to family life: The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – the Joint Committee on Human Rights urges the Government to use the passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to put right some of the injustices relating to the sentencing of mothers.

The report contains five amendments which, the Committee says, would ensure the rights of dependent children are properly considered and respected when a primary carer is sentenced. When a criminal court sentences a parent with a dependent child, the Article 8 ECHR rights of the parent and the child are engaged. In upholding these rights, judges should ensure that the child's right to a family life is only interfered with to the extent that is both necessary and proportionate.

The Committee fails to see how the welfare and best interests of children are being sufficiently considered if they are not prioritised when a parent is sentenced. These amendments, when included in statute, should ensure the rights of children are not ignored.

The failure of Government to capture basic data about primary carers in prison and their dependent children, is, in the view of the Committee, a 'blatant disregard' for the rights of the child and their parents' right to family life. Despite repeated calls from the Committee to collect data, the Government still does not know how many mothers of dependent children go to prison, or how many children are separated from their mothers through imprisonment. This lack of basic information prevents essential services from planning for children whose mothers are in prison. It deprives the child from accessing the support that will help them during and after their mother's sentence.

The Committee proposes the insertion of an new clause imposing a requirement on the Secretary of State to collect and publish data on the number of prisoners who are the primary carers of a child and the number of children who have a primary carer in custody.

For the report, click here. For more details of the proposed amendments, click here.