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Government To "Look At Law" To Force Murder Convicts To Attend Court

Rishi Sunak said the government will change the law to ensure convicts attend court and face the victims of their crimes (Youtube)

3 min read

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that government has been looking at changing the law to ensure those convicted of "horrendous crimes" must attend court and face their victims, after serial killer Lucy Letby refused to attend her sentencing today.

Letby, a 33-year-old nurse, was found guilty on Friday of murdering seven newborn babies and attempting to murder six others at the Countess of Chester Hospital between 2015 and 2016. She was sentenced on Monday morning in Manchester Crown Court, where she was handed a whole-life order in prison from which she will never be released – but she was not in attendance at the hearing.

Sunak said the government would bring forward legislation in "due course" that could force convicts to attending such hearings, which they are not currently required to do. 

"I think it's cowardly, that people who commit such horrendous crimes, do not face their victims and hear firsthand the impact that their crimes have had on them and their families and loved ones," Sunak told broadcasters on Monday.

"And we are looking, and have been looking at changing the law to make sure that that happens. That's something that we will bring forward in due course."

Labour leader Keir Starmer said the government should change the law to close the "loophole" that allows convicts to avoid attending hearings, adding that if they do not, Labour would force an amendment to do so.

"My position is to invite the government to get on with it, the government has been dragging its heels on this," he said. While the parliament is currently in recess, delaying any updates to the law, Starmer felt it should be possible to change this legislation "very quickly" once MPs return at the start of September.

Many of the victims' families, and MPs from both the Conservative and Labour parties have called for the government to launch a full public inquiry that would be led by a judge and make it a legal requirement for witnesses to give evidence. 

However, the government has not yet committed to doing so, so far only suggesting a non-statutory inquiry. While a non-statutory inquiry would be quicker to conclude, there are concerns that it may not be sufficient in delivering the outcome desired by ministers. 

A No10 spokesperson on Monday morning said the government is not ruling out a statutory inquiry, telling reporters that the government would look at the best “footing”.

“We are focused on the outcomes," they said.

"The most important thing is making sure the families get the answers they need and that it’s possible to learn the lessons, that it’s done transparently, and done as quickly as possible. That is crucial. We will have the inquiry on the right footing to achieve that.

“We think it’s important that the voices of the families are heard and involved in shaping the scope of the inquiry should they wish to do so.”

Speaking to reporters on Monday morning, Sunak did not confirm whether he believed a judge-led inquiry should take place. 

"We're setting up an inquiry that will look into everything that happened in this case, and it's important that that inquiry first and foremost gets the answers that families need and ensures that we can learn the lessons from what happened, is conducted transparently and happens as quickly as possible," he said.

"Those are the objectives that we want for the inquiry and we'll make sure that it's set up to deliver on those aims."

Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said: “These were unspeakably evil crimes and one of the worst scandals in the history of the NHS.

"The independent inquiry needs the full force of the law behind it to deliver the justice and accountability that the families deserve. We are urging the government to listen to the families and put the inquiry on a statutory footing. There must be no hiding place for the catastrophic failures that enabled children to die.”

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