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Lucy Letby sentencing highlights flaws in UK justice system

Rina Kobayashi
In all trials with an absent defendant, such as Lucy Letby’s, the speakers must address the perpetrator even in their absence. However, Letby’s absence weakened the impact of the sentencing on the convict and the victims.

Now known as one of the U.K.’s most prolific child murderers, nurse Lucy Letby was sentenced to life in prison Aug. 21, according to The Guardian. Following her murder of several infants, Lucy Letby’s absence at her sentencing allowed her to continue harming the families of her victims as she avoided confronting them in court. 

A convict’s final hearing is arguably the most important part of their trial as victims and families finally share their stories. Thus, the criminal’s presence should be mandatory.

Over the course of Letby’s extensive trial, the families of Letby’s victims began to share their experiences of meeting their newborns and the heartbreak of losing them shortly after their birth. According to ITV News, the mother of one of Letby’s victims described in tears how her family will never get over the loss of their daughter knowing she was tortured by a nurse, someone expected to be a trusted figure. Letby was absent for all of these statements and refused to enter the courtroom out of cowardice.

Letby was found guilty of murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six others at Countess of Chester Hospital in Liverpool, according to The Guardian. More than a dozen of the victims’ families stood in the courtrooms’ public gallery and wrote victim impact statements as they awaited sentencing. 

Victim impact statements are undeniably an extremely emotional part of a trial as they give victims the opportunity to share how a criminal’s actions have impacted them. The statements are intended to provide catharsis to those affected and allow them to feel heard in the presence of the court and their perpetrator. 

Thus, it is imperative for offenders to be present during this point of their trial in order to listen to the words of their victims and accept accountability for their actions. If criminals such as Letby can perform calculated methods of murder, they must be present at the trial to face the emotional repercussions. 

In high-profile criminal cases such as Letby’s, the defendant is obligated to attend each trial meeting unless their is a reasonable excuse, according to CPS. To this end, it is outrageous that perpetrators can live their whole life knowing what they have done yet complain that appearing to one day of sentencing is simply too much.

Another example of an offender skipping their sentencing was during the murder of Olivia Pratt-Korbel. Korbel was shot and killed by Thomas Cashman Aug. 22, 2022, and similarly to Letby, Cashman did not show up to his final sentencing.

These offenders’ absence from their trials is unjust to victims’ grieving families as they do not receive the closure they deserve. According to BBC, the mother of one of Letby’s victims Cheryl Korbel said it is critical for offenders to be present during their sentencing because prison is rehabilitation, and it should start in the courtroom as the perpetrators listen to the families’ impact statements. Although the victims’ families will grieve their lost children forever, being able to address the perpetrator and say what they feel can help them begin to move on and gain comfort. 

Not only do victims need closure through a sentencing to affirm the end of a difficult trial, but criminals do too. Closure is needed for perpetrators like Letby to start rehabilitation. 

According to The Guardian, at the sentencing, a mother of twins expressed how Letby has even had control over her very own trial, and the disrespect shown by not attending her sentencing is revealing of her horrid character. She said the families and loved ones have had to endure showing up to court consistently while the woman being punished “stays in her cell, just one final act of wickedness from a coward.”

Although many may see benefits to criminals not attending their final sentencing, none of these conveniences are more important than their attendance. For example, according to Sky News, chair of the Criminal Bar Association Kirsty Brimelow said the concerns around enforcing this rule would mean that certain defendants could become aggressive during sensitive moments. 

Not only can this risk be limited with higher security in the courtroom to combat unwanted reactions, but it is also worth the risk out of respect to the victims and families affected. One possible solution is integrating webcams into cells so that criminals can be present without being distracted. Having microphones and cameras that are easily muted would allow for control over the perpetrators’ inappropriate and unexpected reactions. 

In an ideal world, Letby would have stood up on the dock at Manchester Crown Court, whether she liked it or not, and listened to all the horrific details of her crimes with shame. Although we cannot change the trial, U.K. law should require sentencing attendance so victims get the justice they deserve. 

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About the Contributors
Sophia Hsu, Media Team
Sophia Hsu ('26) is a member of the Media Team for The Standard in Advanced Journalism.
Rina Kobayashi, Media Team
Rina Kobayashi ('26) is a member of the Media Team of The Standard in Advanced Journalism.  

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