There were widespread calls for the inquiry to have statutory powers and, on 30 August 2023, it was announced that the inquiry will have statutory powers and will be chaired by a judge.
UK Government 30 August 2023 - Legal powers given to Lucy Letby inquiry - 30 August 2023 - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
The government announcement states that the Secretary of State took this decision after listening to the views of families of the victims. The move gives the inquiry legal powers which include compelling witnesses to give evidence under oath.
The Inquiry chair has yet to be appointed and Terms of Reference will have to be agreed and published.
*** Other News ***
Make them attend for sentencing
It appears that government intends to introduce legislation to permit reasonable force to be used to bring a convicted individual into court for sentencing. This move follows a number of high-profile cases, including Letby, where those convicted have refused to attend. Letby was brought to the Crown Court in Manchester but remained in a cell whilst the judge passed sentence.
Experienced criminal lawyers have questioned the wisdom of this type of reform because an offender with little to lose might actually pose additional risk to custody officers, cause disruption and additional upset for the families of victims.
Expand the use of whole-life terms
Ministers have indicated an intention to legislate for an expansion of whole-life orders for murderers whose offences had a sexual motivation.
The Guardian article on this proposal comments - " ... the law would be changed to place an expectation on judges that they take a whole-life order as their starting point in the worst cases – choosing not to impose one in exceptional circumstances. Ministers said they believed changing the law in that way would mean less chance of such orders being overturned on appeal."
It is over 9 years ago that the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) held, in McLoughlin and Newell, that whole-life terms were compatible with the European Commission on Human Rights -
In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights held, by a majority (14 to 3), that the UK position is compatible with the Convention -
The position is discussed by Joshua Rozenberg at More whole life orders? - by Joshua Rozenberg (substack.com).
Whether this change to the law is legally necessary is a moot point. The framework set out in Schedule 21 of the Sentencing Act 2020 appears adequate to deal with the type of murders in question. Politically, the government must think that the reform might appeal to some voters and media commentators.
As the law stands, a single murder involving sexual or sadistic conduct will engage a sentencing starting point of a 30 year minimum term - Schedule 21 para 3(2)(e).