Rishi Sunak refuses to commit to sentencing hearing law prior to election

A promised law to pressure killers to appear in court for their sentences is at risk of being shelved after Rishi Sunak refused to commit to the legislation before the next election.

Dominic Raab had committed to prevent those convicted of the most serious crimes refusing to appear before the families of their victims after a series of cases provoked outrage.

He promised to act while under pressure over the killers of nine-year-old victim Olivia Pratt-Korbel, Zara Aleena and Sabina Nessa before resigning as justice secretary after being criticised in a bullying inquiry.

But Mr Sunak, while insisting the commitment remains “in place”, refused to say whether the legislation will be introduced before the next general election, expected in 2024.

Olivia Pratt-Korbel death
Cheryl Korbel, (centre) mother of nine-year-old Olivia Pratt-Korbel (Peter Byrne/PA)

Asked by reporters during a trip to the G7 summit in Japan, the Prime Minister said: “What happened to Olivia in the summer… my daughters are of a similar age and it’s absolutely shocking.

“With regards to that we’ve got a commitment in place. It requires legislation and so we’ll have to wait for the legislative opportunity but the commitment that we made stands.”

Pressed whether it will come before the nation goes to the polls, Mr Sunak said: “We haven’t published the fourth session legislation yet so I wouldn’t make any… I don’t comment on tax policy, I’m in a zone now where I won’t comment on any legislative things either until we actually publish.”

The Government must hold a general election before the end of January 2025 and the Conservatives are currently trailing Labour in the polls.

Thomas Cashman was jailed for life imprisonment with a minimum term of 42 years for fatally shooting Olivia at her home in Dovecot, Liverpool, while pursuing a fellow drug dealer.

Sex attacker Jordan McSweeney murdered 35-year-old law graduate Ms Aleena as she walked home in Ilford, east London, and was jailed for life with a minimum term of 38 years.

Council of Europe summit – Iceland
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak insisted the commitment remains ‘in place’, but refused to say whether the legislation will be introduced before the next general election (Alastair Grant/PA)

Koci Selamaj received life with at least 36 years for murdering primary school teacher Ms Nessa after travelling to London to carry out an attack on a random woman.

Each of the men refused to appear in court for sentencing, with the judgments being handed down in their absence.

Olivia’s mother Cheryl Korbel has called for the law to be changed to ensure criminals are in court for sentencing, saying Cashman’s absence was “like a kick in the teeth”.

As recently as April, Mr Raab said he was going to change the laws to compel “spineless” offenders to face court to prevent them prolonging victims’ and families’ suffering.

How it would be done was unclear, but could have been by giving judges the power to impose longer terms on those who stay in their cells.

Labour has called for new laws to tackle the issue but has accused the Government of having “dragged their feet and failed to act”.