In cases where the abduction of a child has occurred or there is a fear that it may take place; time and prompt action is of the essence.
Child abduction may involve the criminal law as well as civil. There are a number of relevant criminal offences including common law kidnapping or criminal offences pursuant to the Child Abduction Act. In particular it is a criminal offence to take a child out of the United Kingdom without the consent of the child’s mother and father where he has Parental Responsibility together with any other party who has custodial rights in relation to the child – for example a third party (such as a grandparent) with a Residence Order or a Local Authority where the child is in care.
There is no substitute for vigilance as to where a child’s whereabouts are concerned to prevent abduction but the following steps may help:-
- Notify the child’s school and any other third party carer of your concerns and request that extra vigilance is exercised.
- Control the whereabouts of the child’s passport – for example lodge it with your solicitor – or secure an Order that the passport is surrendered.
- Ask the police to issue a “port alert” (the criteria are stringent) – a note can be put on to the police national computer to warn port authorities.
- Apply to the court for a range of Orders including residence/prohibited steps Orders for disclosure of information concerning a child or the delivery up of a child.
- Ensure that you have an up to date photograph of your child and even home made "fingerprints" in case these need to provided to the police in an emergency.
If a child has already been abducted abroad – there are international treaties (notably the Hague Convention) which regulate enforcement with many foreign jurisdictions. The legal presumption is that the child should be returned to the original jurisdiction for the resolution of any dispute – but some countries are not signatories to any of these conventions and even where there is a reciprocal agreement in place the process is fraught with delay. In the event of such an abduction contact should immediately be made with the British Government Department responsible for liaising with foreign counterparts.
Lawson Lewis Blakers has experience dealing with child abduction cases within the United Kingdom (including Scotland) and will be pleased to assist with these matters.