Offenders to be ordered to attend sentencing

Cowardly criminals who try to evade the final moment of justice will be ordered into the dock to attend their sentencing – and will face longer behind bars if they refuse to appear

  • new power for judges to order offenders to attend sentencing hearings
  • offenders who refuse could be forced into the dock by prison staff or receive an extra 2 years in prison
  • announcement comes on the back of a number of vile criminals refusing to face their victims in court

The reforms announced today (Wednesday 30 August) will create a new power for judges to order an offender to attend their hearings and make it clear – in law – that force can be used to make sure this happens.

The power of custody officers to use reasonable force to make criminals appear in the dock or via video link will also be enshrined in law, meaning every effort will be made for victims and their families to see justice delivered.

If a criminal continues to resist attending their sentencing despite a judge’s order, they will face an extra 2 years behind bars. This new penalty will apply in cases where the maximum sentence is life imprisonment, including serious sexual or violent crimes like murder, rape, and grievous bodily harm with intent.

The change will mean victims can look offenders in the eye and tell them of the devastating consequences of their crime as they read out their impact statement, rather than addressing an empty dock.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said:

"It is unacceptable that some of the country’s most horrendous criminals have refused to face their victims in court. They cannot and should not be allowed to take the coward’s way out.

"That’s why we are giving judges the power to order vile offenders to attend their sentencing hearings, with those who refuse facing being forced into the dock or spending longer behind bars."

Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Alex Chalk KC, said:

"Every time a cowardly criminal hides from justice by refusing to appear in the dock for their sentencing it is another insult to their victims and their families.

"Our reforms will give judges the power to order offenders to come to court to hear the impact of their crimes directly from victims, so that they begin their sentences with society’s condemnation ringing in their ears."

The change in the law follows the tireless campaigning of Farah Naz and Cheryl Korbel, alongside others like Ayse Hussein and Jebina Islam all of whom were denied the opportunity to see their loved ones’ killers face justice.

In August last year, Thomas Cashman shot dead 9-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel, the daughter of Cheryl Korbel, in her own home and callously chose not to hear the impact her death had on her family at his sentencing.

In June the same year, Jordan McSweeney sexually assaulted and murdered Zara Aleena but decided he could not bear to listen to the details of his crime being repeated in court.

Judges will have the discretion to use these new powers as they see fit to ensure justice is done. This could include not ordering offenders to attend in cases where it is expected that they will cause significant disruption which would distress victims and their families.

Legislation to introduce these changes will be set out in due course.

Ministry of Justice
Alex Chalk KC MP
The Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP