Refusal of Sabina Nessa’s murderer to attend sentencing may prompt new law | Dominic Raab

Criminals could be forced to attend sentencing hearings if new rules reportedly being considered by the Ministry of Justice are brought in.

The regulations are apparently being considered after the killer of Sabina Nessa refused to hear his sentencing verdict at the Old Bailey on 7 April.

The schoolteacher, 28, was murdered in a park in south-east London by 36-year-old garage worker Koci Selamaj. He was jailed for a minimum of 36 years for the crime, but was not there to hear the judgment, or impact statements from the victim’s family.

Nessa’s sister, Jabina Nessa, called Selemaj a coward for “not facing up to your responsibility and for what damage you have done to our family”.

The Sun quoted a government source as saying that the justice secretary, Dominic Raab, is looking into the policy change “very carefully”.

A government source confirmed to the Guardian that the plans were being considered. They said: “He has increased funding for victims by 85% and pushed forward the victims’ law because he believes victims should always be at the heart of the justice system.”

Steve Reed, Labour’s shadow justice secretary, echoed the sentiment.

“Judges need the power to force offenders to literally face justice in court, instead of refusing to attend court and causing more unimaginable grief to victims,” he said.

Shadow prisons minister Ellie Reeves told Times Radio: “Victims aren’t at the heart of the criminal justice system.”

She said Labour wants judges to be able to hold criminals in “contempt of court” if they refuse to attend their sentencing in order to shift the balance “back to victims from the perpetrators of crime”.

People “want to see those who have committed horrendous crimes to be held to account for what they have done,” she said. “We haven’t even got a victims’ code on a statutory footing in this country – we have been promised it time and time again.”

The current victims’ code provides statutory guidance on victims’ rights and sets out the minimum standard that organisations must provide to victims of crime.

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