Letby: what next?
Inquiry; reporting restrictions; attending sentencing; retrial
Lucy Letby will be sentenced to life imprisonment tomorrow afternoon for the murder of seven babies and the attempted murder of six others. She was found not guilty of two counts of attempted murder and the jury was unable to reach verdicts on six further attempted murder charges.
A whole-life order is inevitable, meaning she will never be released.
A few quick thoughts on the case:
The more we read, the more we learn about what went wrong at the Countess of Chester Hospital. An inquiry is clearly essential.
It must be an independent inquiry, conducted by an outsider.
It could be a judicial inquiry, meaning one conducted by a former or serving judge (or perhaps a KC who has sat part-time).
It should be a statutory inquiry, with the chair appointed under the Inquiries Act 2005 and having powers to compel the production of evidence. Some non-statutory inquiries have been converted to statutory inquiries after the chair has requested statutory powers from the minister who set them up.
I would like to read the reasons given by Mr Justice Goss and Mrs Justice Steyn before expressing a view on whether they were right to grant some witnesses anonymity and prevent the media from identifying Letby’s victims.
The priority was doing justice in what was clearly going to be a very difficult trial. If that depended on not naming individuals, it will have been a price worth paying.
Convicted defendants should attend court for sentencing. If they are disruptive, they may be removed.
If they refuse to attend, they should not be brought to court by force, bound or gagged. A dignified sentencing exercise in the defendant’s absence is more appropriate.
The government plans to introduce legislation to compel attendance. As I said on Friday, there is no point in imposing an additional prison sentence on a defendant who is going to receive a whole-life order.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson was quoted as saying:
Defendants can already be ordered by a judge to attend court with those who fail facing up to two years in prison.
That must be a reference to contempt of court, which I also discussed on Friday.
I don’t think the courts have confirmed that refusal to attend court for sentencing is a form of contempt and I don’t think the government should be telling the judges what the law is.
A prison sentence for contempt imposed on an offender who is to receive a life sentence with a long or open-ended minimum term is just as pointless as a prison sentence passed under a new statute.
I can see no justification for a re-trial on the charges that the jury could not decide. What happened in those cases is better dealt with in the inquiry. If that argument is accepted, it makes the case for a statutory judicial inquiry even stronger.
Former hospital managers cannot be convicted of corporate manslaughter.
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