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Father committed to prison for failing to return abducted children

A father has lost his appeal against a decision to commit him to prison for continually breaching orders requiring him to return his abducted children to their mother.

The father was born in Libya; the mother in Malta. They moved to the UK in 2002 and became British citizens. They had three children: a daughter aged 22, who was a vulnerable adult, a daughter aged 11 and a son aged 17.

In 2015 the father took the children to Libya and refused to return them. In 2016 he returned with the son to the UK, but the daughters remained in Libya and were believed to be in the care of their paternal grandmother.

Since that time, he had flouted a series of orders requiring him to bring about the return of his daughters to the UK. He had been sentenced on four occasions for a total of five years for contempt of court, although in each case he was released after serving half of the nominal sentence.

The mother was awarded custody of the children by the Libyan court, but the grandmother had gone into hiding with the daughters and their whereabouts was unknown.

In 2022 the father was found guilty of contempt of court for breaching two further orders to procure the return of his daughters and was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment for each breach, to run concurrently and to commence immediately.

The father submitted that the sentence imposed was excessive as it failed to have regard to the legislative intent of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 s.14 and to give appropriate weight to previous sentences of imprisonment he had served for contempt.

He also argued that the judge failed to have appropriate regard to the fact that the coercive element of any sentence would be of nil effect.

The Court of Appeal ruled against him.

It held that while s.14 provided for a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment for a contempt of court, it was accepted that there could be successive sentences of imprisonment for a repeated contempt.

The father had shown an absolute determination never to return his daughters to the UK whatever the consequences and argued that any further sentence of imprisonment would simply be a punishment that would have no coercive effect.

However, the law did not allow contemnors to avoid further imprisonment by defiantly stating that they would never comply. On the contrary, such defiance might well exacerbate the nature of contempt.

Case citations: Zubaidy v Borg Court of Appeal (Civil Division) [2023] EWCA Civ 148 Bean LJ Moylan LJ Lewis LJ

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The contents of this article are general information only. The information in this article is not legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information

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