Thursday 31 August 2023

Letby ~ Inquiry will have statutory powers

On 18 August 2023, the government announced a non-statutory independent inquiry to examine the circumstances behind the murders of seven babies and seven counts of attempted murder relating to six other babies at the Countess of Chester HospitalThe inquiry will look at the circumstances surrounding the deaths and incidents, including how concerns raised by clinicians were dealt with.

Government orders independent inquiry following Lucy Letby verdict - 18 August 20203 - GOV.UK (

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 (

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.

Law and Lawyers: Letby sentenced to Whole Life Term (

Letby: what next? - by Joshua Rozenberg - A Lawyer Writes (

Should there be a statutory public inquiry into the murders and attempted murders by Lucy Letby? - UK Human Rights Blog

A full statutory inquiry is needed into the Letby murders | Institute for Government

Lucy Letby inquiry: how do statutory and non-statutory inquiries differ? | Lucy Letby | The Guardian

 *** 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.

Criminals to be forced to attend sentencing hearings - BBC News

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."

Ministers plan to expand whole-life sentences for ‘most horrific’ murderers | UK criminal justice | The Guardian

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 - 

McLoughlin, R. v [2014] EWCA Crim 188 (18 February 2014) (

Law and Lawyers 18 February 2014: Court of Appeal upholds "whole life" terms for exceptionally serious murder (

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 (

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).

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