By John Ensor •
Updated: 04 Sep 2023 • 15:03
The Old Bailey, London.
Up until recently, criminals could choose not to attend their sentencing in court, as witnessed in the horrific case of Lucy Letby earlier this month. However, new legislation aims to ensure that offenders can no longer dodge their day in court.
Announced today, Wednesday 30 August, by the UK government, the new law will empower judges to mandate that offenders be present at their own sentencing hearings, instead of cowardly opting out.
Judges will now have the legal authority to require criminals to attend their sentencing. The law will explicitly state that force can be used to ensure compliance.
Should an offender continue to defy a judge’s order to attend, they could face an additional two years in prison. This penalty will be applicable in cases where the maximum sentence is life imprisonment, such as severe sexual or violent offences including murder, rape, and grievous bodily harm with intent.
The legislative change will enable victims to directly confront the perpetrators of crimes against them. Victims will be able to read their impact statements while looking the offender in the eye, rather than speaking to an empty 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.’
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk KC, said: ‘Every time a cowardly criminal hides from justice by refusing to appear in the dock for their sentencing it is another insult to their victims and their families. Our reforms will give judges the power to order offenders to come to court to hear the impact of their crimes directly from victims, so that they begin their sentences with society’s condemnation ringing in their ears.’
The push for this legislative change has been driven by campaigners like Farah Naz and Cheryl Korbel, who were denied the chance to see justice served for their loved ones.
Judges will have the flexibility to exercise these new powers judiciously. They may choose not to enforce attendance if it is anticipated that the offender’s presence would cause significant emotional distress to victims and their families.
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Originally from Doncaster, Yorkshire, John now lives in Galicia, Northern Spain with his wife Nina.
He is passionate about news, music, cycling and animals.
There is a danger that this will give back the power to the offender, who can then disrupt proceedings, shout, swear, do all sorts of unacceptable things, and abuse the witnesses until he is forcibly taken back his cell.
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