27/09/2011 18:25 BST | Updated 27/11/2011 05:12 GMT

'Kidnap Loophole' Lets Child Abductors Escape Life Sentences

Criminals who entice children into their cars without lying or using force are escaping kidnap charges due to a loophole in the law, the Government's advisers on legal reform have claimed.

Offenders can be prosecuted under child abduction laws, which carry a maximum of seven years in jail, but would escape kidnap charges, which carry a maximum life sentence.

Lord Justice Munby, chairman of the Law Commission, said: "The common understanding of kidnap doesn't square with the law as it is at present."

The specific requirement of the use of force or fraud to constitute a kidnapping should be removed to help protect children and vulnerable people, the advisers said.

Explaining the "serious problems" with the law as it stands, Professor David Ormerod, the law commissioner leading the consultation, said: "In practical terms, a young child or vulnerable adult who accompanies an offender without having been forced or defrauded into doing so won't necessarily have been kidnapped."

He added there was also an ambiguity over whether there could be "a prosecution for kidnap if an offender uses fraud to get someone to accompany him but he doesn't actually detain them until the end of the journey, which runs counter to what most people would think of as kidnapping".

In its consultation paper, the commission said: "The commission's proposals would close this loophole. A lack of consent by the victim should be enough even if no force of fraud was used by the abductor."

Under the current law, there is no equivalent offence of child abduction when the victim is a vulnerable adult, so unless force or fraud was used, prosecutors have to spend time "scrabbling around" for other offences, such as those against the person. Charges of false imprisonment could also be brought, but only if a loss of liberty could be proven.

Prof Ormerod added: "Our aim is to clarify the definition and boundaries of kidnapping and to ensure that these forms of wrongdoing can be prosecuted with confidence."

The commission is also considering whether some minor cases of kidnapping should be able to be heard by magistrates, rather than only in the crown court. The three-month consultation ends on December 27.