Murderers could be compelled to appear in court for sentencing under new laws

Murderers could be compelled to appear in court or face longer jail terms under new legislation proposed by Justice Secretary Dominic Raab.

After meeting with the family of Zara Aleena, whose killer was legally allowed not to attend his sentencing hearing, Mr Raab said he hoped to ensure murderers face longer prison sentences if they opt to skip court in future.

Ms Aleena, a 35-year-old aspiring lawyer, was sexually assaulted and killed by Jordan McSweeney as she was walking home in Ilford, east London, on June 26 last year, days after his prison release.

On Thursday, Ms Aleena’s aunt Farah Naz met with Mr Raab, who is also deputy prime minister, alongside Labour MP for Ilford South Sam Tarry.

In a statement following the meeting, Mr Raab said the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is “looking carefully” at changing the law to ensure defendants can no longer “hide” from hearings.

He said: “This was a despicable crime and we apologise unreservedly to Zara Aleena’s family for the unacceptable failings in this case.

Zara Aleena death
Zara Aleena (Metropolitan Police/ PA)

“Defendants who hide from justice can prolong the suffering of victims.

“That is why we are looking carefully at changing the law to compel offenders to attend their sentencing – making sure they face up to their actions and victims can see justice being served.”

Speaking with the BBC, Mr Raab also said that making convicts appear at sentencing hearings was “the very least the victims deserve” and a “basic principle of British justice”.

He added that he is considering granting judges the power to impose longer terms on those who refuse to appear.

Ms Naz said McSweeney’s absence at the sentencing hearing was a “slap in the face” for her family.

She told the BBC: “He needed to look at our faces and see how he hadn’t just killed Zara, he had killed a whole family.”