LONDON — The British government said Wednesday it will change the law to force serious criminals to attend their sentencing hearings, after an outcry from the families of murder victims.
The move follows widespread outrage at the refusal of nurse Lucy Letby to come to court this month to be sentenced for the murder of seven infants and the attempted murder of six others.
That meant the killer did not have to hear anguished victims’ statements from the babies’ families, or listen as judge James Gross imposed a sentence of life without parole, saying Letby had acted with “deep malevolence bordering on sadism.”
Politicians and victim advocates were already calling for changes in the law to force criminals to appear for sentencing after several high-profile convicts chose not to face their victims in recent months.
Currently, offenders can be found in contempt of court if they refuse to attend, but they can’t be forced to come. The government said it will change the law to make clear that custody officers can use “reasonable force” to make them comply. Those who refuse will face up to two additional years in prison.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the government would introduce the legislation this autumn. The main opposition Labour Party has said it will support the change.
Sunak said it was “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.”