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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

12 MAY 2011

David Hodson on International Family Law: Madeleine McCann and Amber Alerts

David HodsonPublished today is Madeleine (Bantam Press 2011) by Kate McCann. It tells the hugely sad disappearance of Madeleine McCann four years ago and the continued search for her. Today is her eighth birthday.

Child abduction by family members or strangers is such an inhumane crime and causes such devastation that much more can and should be done to prevent it by national agencies and governments and by international organisations. Means and sources of communication and notification are available now which did not exist even 10 years ago.

The EU, with its unguarded national borders, could quite easily introduce the equivalent of the highly successful US AMBER alert system, combining local and national media, police and port authorities and coordinated at national government level. Gerry and Kate McCann have had an appalling ordeal since their daughter Madeleine was abducted in May 2007 in Portugal and are campaigning for such a scheme across the EU. Some governments are enthusiastic and supportive (eg France). It is in operation across a number of localised areas in the UK. Some governments are not giving active support. Specifically much assistance is needed from the EU to cover the ease of cross-border abductions.

Research from the US Ministry of Justice shows that abducted children are at most risk in the first three hours after the abduction. This is why very urgent action is needed, with well prepared plans, procedures and personnel ready in advance. The Amber Alert system is designed for this speed of coordinated local and then national alert.

The Amber Alert scheme was created in Texas in 1996 after the "stranger" abduction of Amber Hagerman. About 30% of the US Amber Alerts are of abductions of children by strangers, non-legal guardians.

All parents of abducted children deserve the support of family law professionals to campaign for the introduction of Amber Alerts across the EU, or something similar, to achieve the swift return of abducted children to their families and parents.

David Hodson is a Partner at The International Family Law Group LLP. He acts in complex family law cases, often with an international element. 

He is an English specialist accredited solicitor, mediator, family arbitrator, Deputy District Judge at the Principal Registry of the Family Division, High Court, London and also an Australian qualified solicitor, barrister and mediator. He is a Fellow of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and author of A Practical Guide to International Family Law (Jordan Publishing, 2008). He is chair of the Family Law Review Group of the Centre for Social Justice. He can be contacted on dh@davidhodson.com.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

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