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Judges must consider rights of children when sentencing mothers

Family visits HMP Holloway
The Joint Committee on Human Rights tables amendments to the PCSC Bill to protect right to family life of children when their mother is sentenced.

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Joint Committee on Human Rights Report

The Joint Committee on Human Rights used a new report on the Children of mothers in prison and the right to family life published on Friday (14 May 2021) to table five new amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Three of the amendments will:

  • Require judges to consider Pre Sentence Reports including information about children before sentencing a mother
  • Require judges to take into account the best interests of the child
  • Require Government to gather and publish data on how many children are born in prison and how many children are separated from their mother in prison

Report findings

The Committee urges the Government to use the passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to put right some of the injustices relating to the sentencing of mothers.

The sentencing of a mother should not result in a sentence for a dependent child too, says the Committee’s report.

The report contains five amendments which would ensure the rights of dependent children are properly considered and respected when a primary carer is sentenced.

When a criminal court sentences a parent with a dependent child, the Article 8 ECHR rights of the parent and the child are engaged.

In upholding these rights, judges should ensure that the child’s right to a family life is only interfered with to the extent that is both necessary and proportionate.

The Committee fails to see how the welfare and best interests of children are being sufficiently considered if they are not prioritised when a parent is sentenced. These amendments, when included in statute, should ensure the rights of children are not ignored.

The failure of Government to capture basic data about primary carers in prison and their dependent children, is a ‘blatant disregard’ for the rights of the child and their parents’ right to family life.

Despite repeated calls from the Committee to collect data, the Government still does not know how many mothers of dependent children go to prison, or how many children are separated from their mothers through imprisonment.

This lack of basic information prevents essential services from planning for children whose mothers are in prison.

It deprives the child from accessing the support that will help them during and after their mother’s sentence.

The Committee proposes the insertion of an new clause imposing a requirement on the Secretary of State to collect and publish data on the number of prisoners who are the primary carers of a child and the number of children who have a primary carer in custody.

Child prison visitor
© Andy Aitchison

The five amendments

The five amendments proposed by the Committee are reproduced in full below:

Amendment 1

This amendment makes clear the requirement for a sentencing judge to have a copy of a pre-sentence report considering the impact of a custodial sentence on the dependent child, when sentencing a primary carer of a child. 

Amendment 2

This amendment requires a sentencing judge to state how the best interests of a child were considered when sentencing a primary carer of a dependent child. 

Amendment 3

This amendment reflects the requirement for a sentencing judge to consider the impact of a custodial sentence on a child when sentencing a primary carer of a dependent child. 

Amendment 4

This amendment reflects the requirement for a judge to consider the impact of not granting bail on a child, when determining, in criminal proceedings, whether to grant bail to a primary carer of a dependent child. 

Amendment 5

This amendment imposes a requirement on the Secretary of State to collect and publish data on the number of prisoners who are the primary carers of a child and the number of children who have a primary carer in custody.  

 

Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the images in this post. You can see Andy’s work here.

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2 Responses

  1. It is really good if the welfare of the child is taken into account before the verdict is given. Also , to know the plight of children when parents , specially mothers are in prison.

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