Last year I wrote here that the Law Commission had published proposals to reform the criminal law in relation to international parental child abduction. The main change in this area would see the wrongful retention of a child abroad become a criminal offence under the Child Abduction Act 1984. At present, only the wrongful removal of a child can be a criminal offence. As the law stands, a person who takes a child abroad with the other parent’s (or a court’s) consent but then stays abroad does not commit a criminal offence as the removal was lawful and criminal liability does not attach to a wrongful retention of a child abroad when that child was free to make the trip abroad in the first place. There might, of course, still be the possibility of separate civil proceedings under the Hague Convention.
The Government has now made a tentative response to the Law Commission’s proposals as can be seen from this exchange in the House of Commons on 16 December 2014. The exchange was initiated by the Chairman of the All-party Parliamentary Group on Child Abduction. The links below have been added.
Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): The international child abduction charity, Reunite, reports that the wrongful overseas retention of children is up by 30% so far this year. We need urgent action to implement the welcome recent recommendation from the Law Commission that wrongful retention should be made a criminal offence. Will the Minister say when the Government will respond to that recommendation, and can he give a date by which we can expect to see the legislation that is needed?
Simon Hughes [Minister of State, Ministry of Justice]: Kidnap and child abduction can have devastating effects on victims and their families. It is vital that the law reflects the gravity of the offences, and that those who commit them are punished accordingly. I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues who formed a group in this House to argue for a change in the law. In the past, people could be punished for taking their children out of the country, but not for keeping them illegally out of the country rather than bringing them home. The coalition Government asked the Law Commission to consider the issue. It has reported back and recommended a change to the Child Abduction Act 1984. We are looking at that recommendation actively and I hope that we will be able to make progress in this Parliament.