All crimes matter. All harm society. From graffiti on the walls of Cheltenham Minster to dangerous driving down the Prom, all break that social contract that exists between citizens.
But there are some crimes which are so dreadful that they trigger a collective wave of horror and revulsion. Lucy Letby’s offending is one such a case. It does so because it strikes at the very essence of humanity – that deep-seated instinct to care for vulnerable and innocent premature babies, whose lives may hang in the balance.
Justice has been served in her case with a whole life order meaning she will never be released. But it was an insult to the families of her victims that Lucy Letby failed to appear in the dock to hear her sentence handed down. She took the coward’s approach, affronting her victims one last time by robbing their families of the chance to look her in the eye as the judge decided her fate.
The worst offenders who rob innocence, betray trust 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. In the silence that follows the clang of the prison gate, those are the words that should be ringing in the prisoner’s ears. Not least because it is only with that frank acknowledgement of a crime that true rehabilitation can begin.
That’s why we announced this week that the Government will legislate at the earliest opportunity to create an express power for judges to require production of offenders for sentencing hearings. In addition the legislation will clarify that Prisoner Escorting Service staff can use reasonable force to produce the offender in appropriate circumstances.
It will remain for judges to decide what is in the interests of justice on the facts of each case. They are independent and can make the best decisions. But where they rule that attendance is required, the order of the court should be enforced.
[Column published in The Echo and Cheltenham Post]