Lucy Letby: Criminals to be forced to attend sentencing hearings after baby killer refused to stand in dock
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Criminals will be forced to attend sentencing hearings in court, including by force if necessary, under new guidelines announced this week. It comes after killer nurse Lucy Letby refused to attend her sentencing for the murder of seven babies and attempted murder of six more.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed plans to introduce the new law, which could see criminals face a longer stint in prison if they refuse to attend sentencing hearings, after calls from victims and families. No exact date has been given for the new law, but the Prime Minister said it would be brought in when Parliament resumes in the autumn.
The new rules will give judges the power to order criminals to attend hearings, and custody officers will be able to use “reasonable force” to make sure offenders appear in the dock or via video link. Those who ignore the judge’s orders could face an extra two years behind bars.
The government added judges can use their discretion and there may be some exceptions- for example, not ordering offenders to attend in cases where they might cause disruption and distress victims. Plans on changing the law to force criminals to be sentenced in person have been in the works since earlier this year after the killers of Olivia Pratt-Korbel, Zara Aleena and Sabina Nessa all refused to stand in the dock.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “It is unacceptable that some of the country’s most horrendous criminals have refused to face their victims in court. They cannot and should not be allowed to take the coward’s way out. That’s why we are giving judges the power to order vile offenders to attend their sentencing hearings, with those who refuse facing being forced into the dock or spending longer behind bars.”
Labour’s shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said it was disrespectful, offensive and “beyond cowardly” that criminals had been refusing to attend sentencing hearings. He added: “We called for new laws on this back in April last year - but the Conservatives have dragged their feet. This is the fourth time in over 18 months the government has promised action - and yet again they have failed to outline a proper timeline on when they will act.”
Letby received a rare whole life order after being convicted of murdering seven babies and trying to kill six more while working at the Countess of Chester Hospital neonatal unit between 2015 and 2016.
Many people, including the mother of two of Letby’s victims, criticised her refusal to attend sentencing, calling it “just one final act of wickedness from a coward”. The 33-year-old will spend the rest of her life in prison.
London’s Victims’ Commissioner, Claire Waxman OBE, said: “I am pleased to see that Government has now committed to doing all it can to ensure offenders attend their sentencing hearings and face the victims and their families. I have worked closely with Jebina Islam, Farah Naz, and Ayse Hussein in spearheading this campaign - originally called ‘Sabina’s Law’ - and have met with the Secretary of State, the Judiciary, and justice partners to try and shape proposals to meet the needs of victims.
“I welcome Government’s support of our proposal that wilful refusal to attending the hearing can result in an extra two years in prison. While this is a positive step, Government must be wary of the unintended consequence of using force to ensure attendance at hearings, so as to not make sentencing an even more distressing experience for victims.
“It is important Government commit to streaming the sentencing and the Victim Personal Statements into the cells of those who refuse to attend in person.”