Simplifying the law of kidnapping and child abduction

The law relating to kidnapping, false imprisonment and child abduction is due for reform, according to the Law Commission.

In a report published today, the Commission is recommending reforms that will clarify the offences of kidnapping and false imprisonment, and allow for the prosecution of parents who keep their children overseas in contravention of a court order or without permission of the other parent or guardian.

Kidnapping and false imprisonment
The Commission is recommending that the existing common law offences of kidnapping and false imprisonment be replaced with two new statutory offences. False imprisonment will be replaced by the statutory offence of unlawful detention. Kidnapping will become a statutory offence based on the use or threat of force to take or move the victim.

The new offences will capture the range of criminal conduct covered by the existing law. Defined in clear, modern language, they will help to clarify the distinction between kidnapping and false imprisonment, and make both easier to prosecute.

Child abduction
The Commission’s recommended reforms to child abduction are designed to resolve two specific problems with the current law. The Court of Appeal has identified the seven-year maximum sentence for child abduction as being too limited in some extreme cases. To allow the courts to deal adequately with the gravest cases, the Commission is recommending the maximum sentence be increased to 14 years.

The courts have also identified a gap in child abduction law. A parent who takes a child overseas with permission but fails to bring them home is not committing a child abduction offence under the current law. To fill this gap, the Commission is recommending that child abduction should be extended to include cases where a child is lawfully removed from the UK but then unlawfully retained abroad.

Professor David Ormerod QC, Law Commissioner for criminal law, said:

“The wrongful separation of a child from its parent can have a devastating effect on all involved. An opportunity exists to introduce reforms that will modernise and simplify this area of law, and allow the courts to deal adequately and appropriately with offenders.

“We know that at least 300 children a year are unlawfully retained overseas, and the problem is growing. Our recommendation will fill this clear gap in the law.”

The report, Simplification of Criminal Law: Kidnapping and Related Offences, is available on the Law Commission website:
Notes for Editors
1. The Law Commission is a non-political independent body, set up by Parliament in 1965 to keep all the law of England and Wales under review, and to recommend reform where it is needed.
2. For more details on this project, visit
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