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Sentencing Hearings: Offenders’ Attendance

Volume 735: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2023

15. If he will bring forward legislative proposals to require offenders to be present for their sentencing hearing. (905646)

I am pleased to be able to say that we are committed to bringing forward legislation to enable offenders to be compelled to attend their sentencing hearing. Offenders who rob innocence, betray lives and shatter families should be required to face the consequences of their actions and hear society’s condemnation expressed through the sentencing remarks of the judge.

I have recently tabled an early-day motion to put it on record in the House formally the pain that the wilful absence of an offender at a sentencing hearing causes bereaved families. Will the Secretary of State explain why provisions cannot be included in the Victims and Prisoners Bill to change that? Will he meet me and Cheryl Korbel to discuss when legislation will be brought forward and how bereaved families can be at the heart of shaping a change in the law, to ensure that no bereaved family who has to suffer in the fight for justice will face that situation at sentencing ever again?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising this case and for rightly identifying the anguish, pain and insult that families feel when a cowardly defendant refuses to attend court. On his specific question, he will understand that there are issues of scope and all sorts of things as to whether legislative measures can be included within certain Bills, but of course I will be happy to discuss that with him. The central point, however, is that there is a cross-party belief that there needs to be some legislative progress—we are committed to that as well.

I have listened to what the Secretary of State has said, but the Government have had 13 years to compel criminals to attend courts to hear their sentences. The Government’s failure to do that has meant that in the last year alone the killers of Olivia Pratt-Korbel, Zara Aleena and Sabina Nessa have all avoided hearing their sentences, and avoided hearing the impact that their callous crimes have had on the families left behind. Will the Government urgently make this simple change, and stop cowardly offenders from evading their sentencing hearings?

The hon. Lady raises an important point by referring to those three cases. What concerns me is that one defendant’s actions could be copied by others, who take the view that that is somehow a way of getting away from the consequences of their actions. She makes it a political point—we are in the House of Commons, so I totally understand that—but I could equally make the point that the legislation was not changed pre-2010 either. We have seen the anguish caused by these actions, so let me make the point that I want to know that when an offender is sitting in a cell, trying to get to sleep when the rest of the world is getting to sleep, the judge’s words of condemnation are ringing in their ears. There are victims who find it hard to ever recover, so why should that defendant ever be able to sleep soundly in their bed?