Should prisoners have to come to court to be sentenced?

Should the perpetrator of a serious crime like murder be forced to come to court to be sentenced? And if not, doesn’t it make a mockery of the whole process?


Fittingly, since it’s Easter, I have been thinking about restorative justice. This is due to the coverage of the Olivia Pratt Korbel case and the fact that the perpetrator refused to come to court to be sentenced. This also happened with Sabina Nessa’s killer and Zara Aleena. In fact it is happening more and more. When my daughter Anisha died in 2020 the driver who killed her refused twice to come to court to be sentenced [we were in court both times] and was eventually sentenced in his absence. A crime correspondent rang me at the time to say this seemed to be happening more and more. I spoke to him for a story, but, in the end nothing was published.

I have since written to my MP about it and earlier this year wrote to Dominic Raab. It seems to make a mockery of the justice system that the perpetrator is allowed not to attend their own sentencing, indeed to hold the whole process and the victims’ families in contempt. During the sentencing, as in the case of Olivia Pratt Korbel, we read our impact statement as did Anisha’s boyfriend, reliving the trauma of that night since he was with her at the time. It must have taken a lot to psych himself up to do that. We both chose to read out the statement in court rather than just submit it in writing to the judge because we wanted the perpetrator to hear it. We wanted to know what the impact was and who Anisha was. For me, that was his sentence and he needed to face up to it and take responsibility. Instead, the justice system allowed him to evade that responsibility.

Hence the restorative justice system, although I have no idea what it actually restores. Certainly not Anisha. As with so many things around traumatic incidents the language is very poor and seeks to wrap everything up in a bow and focus on the positive. I feel similarly about the phrase ‘post traumatic growth’. What is wrong with us that we cannot just deal with things without focusing on the so-called silver lining?

However, on the up side, restorative justice allows you to meet with the perpetrator. I felt that it offered the opportunity to read him that impact statement. I was damned if I was going to let him off the hook, even if the justice system does. I’m not sure that’s what it’s for. I think you’re supposed to forgive the person because, bearing in mind the silver lining approach to finding the positive, we seem to like the idea of forgiveness – forgive and you can move on seems to be the idea. Those who don’t forgive are portrayed as being eaten up with hatred or something similarly negative. I am not eaten up with hatred. I try not to think about the driver, who is currently undergoing something called victim empathy sessions because he apparently blames the police and Anisha for him driving in a horrendously dangerous manner and killing her. This is despite the fact that I have now seen the CCTV footage and she clearly jumps back and he swerves into her. It is because of the driver’s anger that the restorative justice process is currently on hold, even though it is extremely dubious that anyone can be taught to be empathetic. The perpetrator is being released in August so perhaps I will never get to read him my impact statement, but it won’t be because I didn’t try.

The perpetrator is one thing, however, and, as I said, I don’t really want to think about him. But the justice system is something else and it currently makes everything much worse. I got a rather patronising letter back after writing to Dominic Raab. It informed me that it is difficult to force people to come to court to be sentenced and it could even be beneficial for victims’ families if they don’t come to court because they might be disruptive and cause us more distress apparently. I kind of think the disruption thing is more a problem for the justice system than for victims’ families. Instead I was referred to the victim support service. I am clearly a person who needs counselling and to be managed rather than a person with a legitimate question about the way the justice system is run. I have been trying to research what happens in other countries. Is this the norm that people can invent any excuse not to come to court? [In our case, we were informed that it was fear of getting Covid apparently, even though the prisoner was more likely to get Covid by staying in the prison than coming to an almost empty Old Bailey – the sentencing took place in 2020. He could probably have said any old thing.] If so, is it a recent trend or has it always been the case?

To be honest, after years of this kind of approach by the justice system – and I know it is overstretched like all public services – I am completely fed up. Everything is a battle. Of course, the judge can add more onto a person’s sentence as a sign of their lack of remorse for failing to come to court, but it seems only to amount to days and is clearly not enough of a disincentive currently to have any impact. Moreover, it compares so poorly with the amounts perpetrators get off for pleading guilty [a third off] and the sentence they actually serve – a half – which make a mockery of the original sentence. Just be honest. If the person serves 3.5 years say that the sentence is 3.5 years, not that it is 10.5 years reduced by a third and then by a half, mainly to save the justice system money.

Unless you’ve had to contend with all of this it is difficult to understand how it makes you feel, but currently there is no sense that victims’ families are listened to at all. Maybe the justice system needs to do its own victim empathy sessions?

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