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We can’t force Letby to attend court
Nor should we
The Mail quotes a father whose twin boys Letby tried to murder:
What gives her the right to refuse to come up from the cells or to tell the judge that she doesn’t intend to listen to his sentence? The law must change. The judge should be given the power to summon her into the dock to face myself, my wife and all the other victims who desperately want her to hear our victim impact statements.
The Telegraph infers from remarks by a “government source” that she could be forced to attend. The source said:
Lucy Letby should be in court to hear society’s condemnation of the enormity of her crimes, expressed by the judge. If that requires the use of lawful enforcement, so be it. If she continues to refuse, that will only strengthen our resolve to change the law as soon as we can.
That’s not quite the same as saying she could be forced to attend. If the government source happens to be the experienced criminal barrister who sits in the secretary of state’s office, he will know better than to second-guess, undermine or contradict the trial judge.
The Telegraph quotes Mr Justice Goss as saying: “The sentencing hearing will take place whether she is present or not. The court has no power to force her to attend. Therefore, there is nothing I can do about it.”
Of course, defendants should attend court to hear victim impact statements and the judge’s sentencing remarks. That may bring some comfort to victims and their families. But, as I wrote yesterday, there is no point in punishing non-attendance by imposing an additional prison sentence on a defendant who is going to receive a whole-life order.
Sir Robert Buckland, the former justice secretary, has spoken about the practical difficulties of bringing unwilling defendants into court. The Secret Barrister wrote about this in April. I wrote about it in February. But the government is pressing ahead with legislation.
I come back to my original question: why do some newspapers think this is the most important aspect of the story?
Is it because two days have passed since the jury completed their task and Letby’s conviction for murdering seven babies and attempting to murder six others is less important than her unwillingness to accept the enormity of her crimes?
Is it because some believe that one more day in court will make more of an impact on her than 10 months in the dock? Do they think she will otherwise never find out what her victims’ families and the judge say today?
Or is it because we project our own feelings on someone who behaves in such an unnatural way, imagining she will suffer more from a day in court than a life in prison?
Her choice not to attend today is the last decision she will ever make about where she spends her time. In the years to come, perhaps she will learn to regret it.
Update 1530: the judge’s sentencing remarks have now been published. Some passages were not broadcast to avoid identifying the victims’ families. In this version, victims’ names have been replaced by letters of the alphabet.
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