A new reform is supposed to force British criminals to attend sentencing but has fallen far short of the mark.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak this week hailed a new reform aimed at ordering “cowardly criminals” into the dock to attend their sentencing so that, in the words of Justice Secretary Alex Chalk, offenders “begin their sentences with society’s condemnation ringing in their ears.” Rhetoric aside, the actual contents of the reform make it unlikely there will be much of a shift from the current situation in which criminals who are truant from their sentencing are immune from legal consequences..
The Ministry of Justice clarifies (as soon as the second paragraph) that “reasonable force” can be used to make criminals appear in the dock or “via video link.” There is a large gulf between this and Mr. Sunak’s suggestion that criminals who refuse to appear in person face “being forced into the dock or spending longer behind bars.” The option of appearing via video link means this is simply untrue. It also tears open the Ministry’s claim:
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.
Besides TV screens, many docks will remain empty. Victims and their families will, as Mr. Chalk put it, continue to be “insult[ed].”
Paragraph three provides more details on how the reform will work. It explains that “if a criminal continues to resist attending their sentencing despite a judge’s order, they will face an extra two years behind bars.” But, “this new penalty will apply in cases where the maximum sentence is life imprisonment” [emphasis added]. Of course, “life” in Britain rarely means life, but in the cases that it does, the threat of an additional two years will mean very little. And those who do receive the punishment will stay in for only one more year, anyway, if the regular halving of sentences is anything to go by.
As if the promises surrounding the reform were not empty enough, the release then ends by highlighting that judges can choose to do nothing about unwilling criminals, should they choose:
It will remain for judges to decide whether it is in the interests of justice to order an offender to attend court and for prison staff and custody officers to decide whether the use of force is reasonable and proportionate in each case.
The timing of the reform could not be better; baby murderer Lucy Letby prompted a good deal of public anger this month when she refused to attend sentencing, this having been described as her “final act of wickedness.” But with such flimsy stipulations in place, the update is unlikely to make a difference.
With a humiliating general election defeat possibly around the corner, Britain’s nominal Conservative Party is working hard to look tough and effective, particularly on immigration and crime. In this case of criminal sentencing reform, looks truly are deceiving.
The government did not respond to The European Conservative’s request for comment.