NO one who has followed the hideous detail of nurse Lucy Letby’s trial would say it is fair that she be allowed to miss her own sentencing yesterday.
Yet it happened. She stayed in the cell at the court complex, refused to go up to the dock and the judge began and concluded her sentencing without her.
Victim impact statements from the heartbroken families were read to an empty dock and the judge passed 14 whole life sentences. She heard none of it.
For my family, this cowardice from a convicted killer is all too familiar.
This is just another way for the offender to spit in the face of the law and take power from victims and their family.
My niece Zara Aleena was killed as she walked home from seeing friends in East London on June 26 last year.
The man responsible would not attend his own sentencing last summer.
We wanted Zara’s killer to face us in the courtroom and to hear our impact statements.
It almost seemed a waste of our time to stand and give our statements to an empty box.
As the families of the 13 babies killed or attacked by Letby would have wanted, we wanted him to hear what he did to us.
We knew not to expect him to listen. We knew that he might not show remorse or even flinch.
We wanted him to hear what he did to Zara.
His barrister said in court that he did not want to see the CCTV coverage of what he did, he couldn’t face it.
This made us want to make him watch what he did even more.
How can a murderer not have to face their crime in a justice system?
It made us angry that he yet again exerted his power and exercised his rights when he had committed the ultimate crime.
How does a murderer have the entitlement not to face the judgment in a court of law?
It didn’t make sense to us.
It makes sense to us that perpetrators should attend their sentencing, not only for the sake of the victims and their families, but also for the integrity of the justice system itself.
Delivering victim impact statements is a chance for families to express their pain, grief, and the lasting impact of the crime on their lives.
It is a natural human need, seeking a level of closure and retribution.
As we delved deeper into this matter, it became evident that the absence of offenders at their own sentencing has evolved into a troubling trend.
The current practice allowing offenders to skip their sentencing proceedings was established with good intentions — put in place to ensure legal proceedings could go on in the absence of the offender, safeguarding the rights of victims.
But it has inadvertently led to a situation where it is exploited, particularly among murderers, raising concerns about the integrity of justice.
We have been told that the Government supports legislation to enforce offenders, especially murderers, to face sentencing, but as yet there has been no action taken.
This weekend we learned that the King’s Speech later this year will address the issue, which is a step in the right direction, but we urge the Government to make a change.
Letby has got away with not facing her horrific crimes.
She should have been forced to hear the sentencing wherever she was via camera.
If we don’t change this now we will see a continued disrespect and a lack of deference for the law and what we know to be right.
That’s why I’ve been campaigning for what I call Zara’s Law.
While we understand that offenders might not show remorse, as victims we still want to voice our pain and ensure our voices are heard.
Compelling offenders to face their sentencing can trigger emotions such as shame, guilt, remorse and fear.
These emotions are vital components in the rehabilitation process and can act as deterrents against future crimes.
Training is of course needed to ensure that prison officers are not put at risk by forcing the guilty to hear their sentences.
But we don’t have to rely on brute force to get the offender into the courtroom.
There are other ways to be more persuasive, such as adding to the sentencing tariff or imposing restrictions within the prison environment.
This approach would give offenders a clear choice, emphasising that their participation in the sentencing process is a vital part of their accountability.
This would not work in all cases, especially the case of Letby, as she has a life sentence without tariff.
Mandatory sentencing attendance would be a step towards accountability, remorse, and healing for victims.
By restoring balance and accountability, we can begin to address the needs of victims and foster a system that truly serves justice.