LONDON (Reuters) - British judges will be given new powers to force criminals to attend sentencing, the government said on Wednesday, following furore over several high profile cases where killers refused to appear in the dock to hear their punishment.
The reforms will enable judges to order an offender to attend, or face an extra two years in prison in some cases, and also give custody officers the legal power to use reasonable force, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.
It comes after nurse Lucy Letby last week refused to leave the cells to hear she would spend the rest of her life in jail for killing seven newborn babies. The mother of one of the victims described it as a final act of wickedness.
"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," Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement.
"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."
The government said the legislation to introduce the changes would be set out "in due course".
The MoJ said a criminal could face an extra two years in prison if they continue to resist attending their sentencing after being ordered to by a judge. This would apply in cases where the maximum sentence is life imprisonment, including serious sexual or violent crimes.
(Reporting by Muvija M, Editing by Louise Heavens)