The sister of murdered London schoolteacher Sabina Nessa has said she is “delighted” at changes which will enable judges to force offenders to attend sentencing hearings.
The Government has promised law changes to give judges the power to force defendants to appear in the dock for sentencing, or face a harsher sentence, after a string of cases where cowardly offenders refused to look their victims’ families in the eye.
Among those welcoming the move was Ms Nessa’s sister Jebina Islam, 31.
Ms Nessa was murdered by Koci Selmaj as she walked through a park in Kidbrooke, south east London, in 2021, with her killer refusing to appear in court to hear his sentence of life in prison.
Speaking to the Mirror, Ms Islam said: “It’s about time.
“We’ve seen from my sister’s case that there has been a pattern that these animals are not coming to court and now we have put a stop to this.
“I hope this will bring some sort of comfort to victims and their families that these animals will be made to come to court whether they like it or not.”
The change comes after child murderer nurse Lucy Letby refused to appear for her sentencing earlier this month.
Among those campaigning for the move was Cheryl Korbel, whose daughter Olivia was shot dead by Thomas Cashman as he chased a fellow drug dealer into her home in Dovecot, Liverpool.
Cashman refused to come up to the dock when he was sentenced to a minimum of 42 years.
Under the reforms, custody officers will be able to use “reasonable force" to ensure those awaiting sentencing appear in the dock or by video link.
Those convicted could also face an extra two years in jail if they ignore a judge’s order in some cases.
Ms Korbel said she hoped that Olivia was “proud of what we’ve done".
“Because at the end of the day, it’s in her name, it’s why we’ve done this. And not only in her name, it’s for every other family out there that has gone through it,” she told ITV.
Announcing the law change, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “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.
But the father of a murdered police officer warned against a “knee-jerk, headline-grabbing" response.
Former prison officer Bryn Hughes’ daughter Pc Nicola Hughes was killed in 2012 alongside fellow Pc Fiona Bone in a gun and grenade ambush while on duty in Tameside, Greater Manchester.
“I have seen it from both sides of the courtroom. On being the father of someone who was murdered and being in court, and a former prison officer who has actually restrained someone into court, it is difficult," he told the PA news agency.
He said he had seen the behaviour of prisoners forced into courtrooms, saying they often used “foul abuse towards the family” or otherwise turned violent.