Criminals can be physically forced into dock for sentencing under new reforms

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Criminals who try to evade facing justice will be forced to attend their sentencing under new powers and will face longer behind bars if they refuse to appear.

Reforms announced on Wednesday will create a new power for judges to order an offender to attend their hearings.

The power of custody officers to use reasonable force to make criminals appear in the dock or via video link will also be enshrined in law, meaning every effort will be made for victims and their families to see justice delivered.

If a criminal continues to resist attending their sentencing despite a judge’s order, they will face an extra two years behind bars. 

This new penalty will apply in cases where the maximum sentence is life imprisonment, including serious sexual or violent crimes like murder, rape, and grievous bodily harm with intent.

‘In the interests of justice’

The change will mean victims can look offenders in the eye and tell them of the devastating consequences of their crime as they read out their impact statement, rather than addressing an empty dock.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said earlier this year that ministers were committed to changing the law to force criminals to be sentenced in person after the killers of Olivia Pratt-Korbel, Zara Aleena and Sabina Nessa refused to stand in the dock.

It also comes after child murderer Lucy Letby refused to appear for her sentencing earlier this month.

The Ministry of Justice said judges would have discretion over whether it is “in the interests of justice” to order an offender to attend court.

No exact date has been given for the legislation and it has been promised in “due course”.

Rishi Sunak said changes to the law to force offenders to attend sentencing hearings will happen when Parliament returns in the autumn. 

Speaking to broadcasters at a police station in London, the Prime Minister was asked when the reforms would happen. 

‘Coward’s way out’

He said: “This will happen in the new session of Parliament when it commences in the autumn. I think, critically, like many, I was appalled that people who have committed awful crimes somehow are able to take the coward’s way out and not appear in court for their sentencing and to hear the impact that their crimes have had on the victim’s families. 

“I don’t think that’s right. There shouldn’t be an easy way out. That’s why we’re going to change the law so that courts could compel these offenders to be present for their sentencing and to hear the impact that their actions have had, but also, if necessary, to use reasonable force to bring those people to court, and also to add time on to their sentence if they don’t appear. 

“I think that’s the right thing to do. People rightly expect criminals to face up to the consequences of their actions.”

Mr Chalk hit out at “cowardly criminals” who “insult” victims by refusing to appear.

“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,” he said.

Labour has previously said it would back such a change, meaning the reforms could be passed into law relatively quickly.

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