Lucy Letby is “cowardly” for missing her sentencing hearing, the prime minister has said, adding that the government is “looking at” changing the law.
Letby was last week convicted of murdering seven babies and attempting to end the lives of six others while working as a neonatal nurse.
She did not appear in the courtroom today, with the judge set to outline how long she will spend in prison.
Lucy Letby latest: ‘Sadistic’ Letby refusing to leave cells
During his trial, Thomas Cashman, the killer of Olivia Pratt-Korbel, did not attend court at points and did not turn up to his sentencing.
Judges have the discretion to compel people to appear before them for sentencing – however, it remains up to prison governors to actually execute this order as it would be their staff who would have to force someone from their cell.
An extra two years can be added to someone’s sentence if they refuse to attend the court.
Rishi Sunak said: “The first thing is to extend my sympathies to everyone affected by this.
“I think, like everyone reading about this, it’s just shocking and harrowing.
“Now, I think it’s cowardly that people who commit such horrendous crimes do not face their victims and hear firsthand the impact that their crimes have had on them and their families and loved ones.
“We are looking and have been at changing the law to make sure that that happens, and that’s something that we’ll bring forward in due course.”
Sir Keir Starmer has vowed to close the “shamefully exploited loophole” which lets convicts miss their time in the dock.
The guidelines were laid out by the Crown Prosecution Service, which Sir Keir would have overseen as director of public prosecutions.
It is not uncommon for people to refuse to leave their cells or report as sick on the date of hearings – even when they are dialing into proceedings virtually from the prison.
Sir Keir tweeted: “As director of public prosecutions, I saw how crucial it is for victims and their families that perpetrators appear in court.
“That criminals can cowardly hide away is a shamefully exploited loophole, and one Labour will close. Victims must be at the heart of our justice system.”
Minister for Children Claire Coutinho told Sky News “more law is probably required”.
“The justice secretary [Alex Chalk] said he’s very committed to making sure these laws are in place,” she added.
“I think we can all say that these crimes have been some of the most sickening that I’ve seen in my entire lifetime and it’s really important that victims have that moment in court with the perpetrator there and the perpetrator has to face that moment of justice.”
Pressed on why additional laws are needed, given the powers judges already have, the minister said: “I think there are some changes that it sounds like are needed as well to make sure that in every instance the perpetrator has to go to court.”
Ms Coutinho added that, if Letby gets a whole-life order, adding two years to her sentence for not appearing “might not be enough of an incentive”.
Some in government went further, with one source saying that if Letby requires “lawful enforcement” to be in court, then “so be it”.
“If she continues to refuse that will only strengthen our resolve to change the law as soon as we can,” they added.
Labour has claimed a “number of things” could be done to compel people to attend sentencing.
Shadow Justice Secretary Ellie Reeves told Sky News: “You could look at things like prison privileges for example… and one of the suggestions we’ve heard is to have the sentencing live-streamed into someone’s cell.”
She said the government had “failed to act” – which will likely lead to Letby not attending court today.