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UK criminals to be forced to attend their sentencing

Judges could be given the power to order criminals to attend their sentencing, according to planned legislation announced Wednesday by the UK's justice ministry. It comes after offenders in several high-profile trials were not in court to hear their sentence and statements from the victims' families, prompting repeated calls for a change in the law.…

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks at the opening of London Tech Week in central London on June 12, 2023. (Photo by Ian Vogler / POOL / AFP)

Judges could be given the power to order criminals to attend their sentencing, according to planned legislation announced Wednesday by the UK’s justice ministry.

It comes after offenders in several high-profile trials were not in court to hear their sentence and statements from the victims’ families, prompting repeated calls for a change in the law.

Last week nurse Lucy Letby refused to attend her sentencing for murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six other infants.

Under the proposed reforms, which will apply in England and Wales, judges will have the discretionary power to order criminals to attend sentencing hearings, the justice ministry said.

Custody officers will be able to use “reasonable force” to make the criminals appear in the dock or by video link, “meaning every effort will be made for victims and their families to see justice delivered”.

Those who continue to resist attending their sentencing despite a judge’s order may face an extra two years behind bars, according to the ministry.

This penalty will apply in cases where the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. Typically, anyone sentenced to life has a minimum tariff to serve before they can be considered for parole.

“It is unacceptable that some of the country’s most horrendous criminals have refused to face their victims in court,” Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.

“They cannot and should not be allowed to take the coward’s way out,” he added.

The government did not give an exact date for the legislation to be introduced with the justice ministry saying it will be set out “in due course”.

Some lawyers have expressed concern about making attendance for sentencing compulsory, citing fears that the use of force could cause injury to defendants or staff, and disruption to proceedings.

The government, which has been accused of underfunding the criminal justice system for years, at the weekend announced plans to impose more so-called whole-life orders for the worst killers.

Currently, some 70 prisoners are serving sentences from which they will never be considered for release.

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