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Lord Chief Justice calls for longer prison sentences for parental child abductors

Lord Judge says that most serious parental child abduction is ‘akin to kidnap’

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, has said that longer sentences should be available for parents who abduct their children. Lord Judge was giving the leading judgment in R v Kayani; R v Solliman [2011] EWCA Crim 2871, in which the appellants appealed unsuccessfully against the lengths of their sentences for breaching the Child Abduction Act 1984. The Lord Chief Justice said that offences against the 1984 Act by mothers and fathers were becoming increasingly troublesome.

He continued:

"At its most serious .... the offence of child abduction is akin to kidnapping. On conviction for kidnapping a sentence of life imprisonment is available. For offences contrary to the 1984 Act, the maximum sentence is 7 years imprisonment. This wide discrepancy seems illogical. There are some cases of child abduction where, given the maximum available sentence, with or without the appropriate discount for a guilty plea, the available sentencing options do not meet the true justice of the case, properly reflective of the culpability of the offender, and the harm caused by the offence."

The Lord Chief Justice added:

"The abduction of children from a loving parent is an offence of unspeakable cruelty to the loving parent and to the child or children, whatever they may later think of the parent from whom they have been estranged as a result of the abduction. It is a cruel offence even if the criminal responsible for it is the other parent. Any reference in mitigation to the right to family life, whether at common law, or in accordance with Article 8 of the Convention, is misconceived. In effect the submission involves praying in aid and seeking to rely on the very principle which the defendant has deliberately violated, depriving the other parent of the joy of his or her children and depriving the children from contact with a loving parent with whom they no longer wish to communicate. There is a distinct consideration to which full weight must be given. It has long been recognised that the plight of children, particularly very young children, and the impact on them if the person best able to care for them (and in particular if that person is the only person able to do so) is a major feature for consideration in any sentencing decision."

Dismissing appeals against sentences of 3 years and 5 years, Lord Judge invited the Law Commission to address the question whether cases where children are removed from one parent by the other should be treated as kidnapping offences. He said that in the meantime there were cases falling within the child abduction offence which merited a sentence greater than the maximum current sentence of 7 years imprisonment after a trial. He recommended that the maximum sentence for child abduction should be increased.

The judgment can be read here.