STEPHEN POLLARD: Lucy Letby refusing to face the court for her sentencing is simply an outrageous act of contempt
- Letby did not attend court for many of the verdicts on the 22 counts she faced
- Mr Justice Goss is expected to hand down a ‘whole life order’ in court today
Thank God, I will never have to experience the desperate pain of the parents whose babies were murdered by Lucy Letby. Nothing can banish it completely, but one of the functions of the criminal justice system is to provide the comfort — however small — of seeing the likes of Letby held to account for their crimes.
The word ‘closure’ is bandied around too often in this context. Seeing the murderer of your child brought to justice surely provides anything but closure.
But within the confines of the trial, there is indeed an arc which ends with a closure of the process — from the initial plea through to the jury giving its decision and then, to close the trial, sentencing.
Lucy Letby did not attend court for many of the verdicts on the 22 counts she faced. And she has indicated that she will not be present today, when Mr Justice Goss hands down what is expected to be a ‘whole life order’, which offers no hope of parole.
Mr Justice Goss is expected to receive a ‘whole life order’, which offers no hope of parole
The parents of the babies murdered by Letby — and of those she tried to kill — have been through hell during the 145 days of her trial
It has always struck me as outrageous that anyone convicted of a crime is effectively free to decide for themselves whether to appear in court to hear their sentence.
It is not just that they are treating the court — and, by extension, society itself — with contempt when they stay away. The real outrage is the impact on their victims and, in murder cases, their victims’ loved ones.
The parents of the babies murdered by Letby — and of those she tried to kill — have been through hell during the 145 days of her trial.
They had to endure the circumstances of the death of their child, or children, being raked over by both prosecution and defence lawyers.
Then they had to listen to Letby herself lying about how their babies died, refusing to admit her guilt.
It is unconscionable that she can then simply decide to take no further part and that they are now to be denied seeing Letby confronted with her guilt, and with the judge sentencing her for her crimes. In other cases, victims have found some solace in the convict having to listen to an impact statement. Yet Letby is expected to remain in her cell rather than face justice in person, through her presence in court.
Lucy Letby did not attend court for many of the verdicts on the 22 counts she faced and she has indicated that she will not be present today
Letby is expected to remain in her cell rather than face justice in person, through her presence in court
The number of convicts refusing to attend their sentencing has increased in recent years. In April, Thomas Cashman, the killer of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel, shot dead in Liverpool, stayed in his cell.
Last December, Jordan McSweeney refused to attend his sentencing for the murder of aspiring lawyer Zara Aleena. And in April, 2022, Koci Selamaj, who killed school teacher Sabina Nessa, stayed away too.
READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE: Parents of babies targeted by Lucy Letby brand her refusal to come to court a ‘slap in the face’ and DEMAND MPs change the law to stop ‘cowardly’ offenders ‘hiding’ when they are sentenced
As the law stands, judges can demand that a convict appears, but prison officers are only allowed to use reasonable force to enforce this ruling.
Fear of later legal action over what constitutes reasonable when the person is not being violent but simply refusing to leave their cell means that, in practice, judges have no actual power to force attendance.
So it is good news that the Government seems set to introduce legislation to give extra powers to judges. The likely change appears to be that refusal to attend court would become an ‘aggravating factor’, which would mean an increased sentence.
If Letby does receive a whole life tariff, such a penalty would be irrelevant in any case because her existing sentence would, of course, end only with her death in prison.
But a new law could change the definition of what is considered reasonable force, allowing prison officers to shackle a convict if they refuse to move.
Legislation to change the law on this matter is expected to be included in the King’s Speech to be laid before Parliament later this year. It cannot come too soon.
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