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Criminal LawNews

New power for judges to order offenders to attend sentencing hearings – is this necessary?

On Wednesday 30th August, the government made an announcement on reforms that 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. Offenders who refuse could be forced into the dock by prison staff or receive an extra 2 years in prison. Here’s our analysis of the potential impact of these reforms.


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.


It will remain for Judges to decide whether it is in the interests of justice to order the offender to appear in the dock and it will be for prison staff and custody officers to decide whether the use of force is reasonable and proportionate in each case.


Whilst I agree with the sentiment behind this, my question is, has it gone far enough. Why in this digital age, can there not be one specialized holding cell in every court and every prison/custody suite that may be housing these defendants that refuse to appear.


That cell could be equipped with speakers (obviously protected so they can’t be broken) and video link. So, if they do refuse to attend, and the prison officers can’t drag them up to dock because no one can decide what is “reasonable and proportionate”, the defendant will still have to hear and see what is being said whether they like it or not.


They could close their eyes I suppose, but they would still have to listen. If they covered their ears, the volume could be turned up. And up again, and again.


I see issues with the present announcement because if someone is dragged up to the dock, they could cause such a stink whilst in the dock that proceedings may have to be halted and could ultimately result in the Judge having to remove them from the court in any event. This has happened in the past.


There must be more that can be done that doesn’t put prison officers in the situation of having to decide what is reasonable and proportionate.


Will an additional 2-year sentence make a difference to these defendants? Absolutely not.


There must be alternative solutions in this digital world we live in.


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