Criminals who fail to turn up in court to hear their judgment should face tougher sentences as a matter of “respect” for victims, Dominic Raab has said.

The justice secretary said it should be considered an aggravating factor in sentencing if someone who commits a crime decides to “snub” the court.

Last year, Jordan McSweeney, who was convicted of the murder of law graduate Zara Aleena, provoked further outcry when he decided not to come to the court to hear the verdict.

Asked whether the government was considering forcing judges to bring people up from their cells, Mr Raab told Sky News: “It’s definitely something I’m looking at, I think both as a matter of respect and recognition of the bereaved of victims, but also frankly, respect for the principle of British justice.

“I think we should look at making it an aggravating factor in sentencing if an individual who committed one of these heinous crimes just snubs the court.”

In the same interview, Mr Raab said it would be “improper” for him to comment on bullying allegations against him.

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Raab repeatedly dodges bullying question

Mr Raab’s words come following an announcement from the Ministry of Justice that domestic abusers with a history of coercive or controlling behaviour will be given tougher sentences if they kill their partner.

Judges will be asked to consider longer jail terms for people with a history of abuse and aggression, so that coercive and controlling behaviour, as well as the use of excessive violence, will be made aggravating factors in sentencing decisions for murder.

Manslaughter sentencing guidelines around “rough sex” are also set to be reviewed.

Read more:
Zara Aleena: Serial offender jailed for ‘brutal’ murder of law graduate
Coercive control: How you spot it, your legal rights and how to get help

The government will also carry out a public consultation on whether a higher sentencing starting point of 25 years should apply in murder cases where there has been a history of controlling and coercive abuse.

At the moment, the 25-year starting point only applies to murders where a weapon has been taken to the scene with intent.

The changes follow a series of recommendations by Clare Wade KC, a leading criminal barrister tasked by the government to carry out an independent review into domestic homicide sentencing.

Ms Wade was the leading defence barrister for Sally Challen, who suffered years of domestic abuse by her husband before she killed him with a hammer in 2010.

Ms Challen was tried and convicted for her husband’s murder but was released in 2019 after the Crown Prosecution Service eventually accepted her plea of manslaughter by diminished responsibility.

Mr Raab said the government was looking at Ms Wade’s recommendations because we think “sentences should be increased to reflect that slow torment on top of the severity of the crime”.

He said the introduction of a statutory aggravating factor could lift sentences by two years or more.

He added: “Ultimately in all of this I want men who commit these awful crimes to spend longer behind bars, and I want women to feel more confident that the justice system is on their side, reflecting the full appalling nature of the crimes that they suffer.”

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