In November 2010 the Government issued a legal aid green paper proposing that family disputes should be resolved through mediation rather than through the courts, unless there is domestic violence involved. This proposed restriction to access to public funds raised a number of concerns and the process of enacting this into law is still continuing.
One of the concerns raised in response to the Government proposals was the risk of parents, without proper access to justice, abducting their own children.
A leading UK charity – Reunite International – specialising in the movement of children across borders has announced a 47% rise in the number of cases reported to their advice line. In 70% of the cases reported to Reunite the mother was reported to be the abducting parent.
Alison Shalaby, acting director at Reunite, is quoted as saying:-
“It is concerning that we have seen such a large increase in the number of children abducted, especially as we know this is just the tip of the iceberg – many cases go unreported either to ourselves or government departments.
“There are many reasons why a parent may abduct their child. For some it may be a deliberate act to deny the other parent contact, for others there may be sociological or economic factors, or in some instances a parent may abduct their child out of fear for the child´s safety. Whatever the reason, parental child abduction causes real harm to children who potentially suffer great emotional trauma by suddenly being ripped away from all they know and being denied contact with their left-behind parent and extended family.
“For the left-behind parent the shock and loss are unimaginable and they face unfamiliar legal, cultural and linguistic barriers when seeking the return of their child.”
Naturally, any increase in a trend of child abduction is extremely concerning and it remains to be seen what effect (if any) the Governments amendments to legal aid will have.
What remains relevant however is the importance of acting quickly in situations such as this, as the Court can take steps to limit a parents movements with their children. For example, where it is suspected that a child may be taken, the Court can make a Prohibited Steps Order prohibiting that parent from removing the child from the jurisdiction. Additionally, there are also times when acting quickly can help to alleviate misunderstandings, for example, one parent suspects an abduction when in reality the other parent has no such intentions.
It appears that the criminal Courts may be taking a stronger approach to cases involving parental abduction. In R v Kayani; R v Solliman, the Lord Chief Justice dismissed a legal precedent that parents in such cases should not be charged with kidnap. That could mean them facing life imprisonment instead of the current seven year maximum for an offence of child abduction.
If you feel that you need advice and assistance relating to any matters concerning a child / children then our staff at Stephens Scown LLP have a wealth of experience dealing with such matters and can be contacted using the details at the side of this page.
Chris Morse is a Legal Executive in the Stephens Scown Family team. Stephens Scown has offices in Exeter, Truro and St Austell. Its family team advises clients on a wide range of family law including matrimonial and partner issues including separation, divorce and civil partnerships, family finance and child access.