Courts nationwide report that increasing numbers of offenders refuse to attend their sentencing hearings. Our criminal defence solicitors explain how prison officers – and the courts – react in these situations.

Crown Prosecution Service guidance

Judges have previously stated that there is no adequate remedy for dealing with offenders who refuse to attend court hearings. This has prompted the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to issue new guidance.

The guidance outlines the “options available to help the court ensure attendance or for hearings to go ahead without them [defendants]. This does include an option for the defendant to be brought before the court in handcuffs”.

Jonathan Store of the CPS said it is important for defendants to attend court when required because:

“For many victims, having their impact statement read in court before the defendant is an issue of huge significance. For them to be denied this opportunity can be very upsetting. Non-attendance by defendants also means cases can be delayed, trials disrupted, and justice frustrated.”

What will the court do?

If a defendant refuses to leave prison to attend court, the court must decide whether he/she has reasonable grounds for their refusal. For example, the defendant could be unwell. If so, the court may order the hearing to continue in the defendant’s absence or for the hearing to be delayed until later.

If there are no reasonable grounds, the prosecution may attempt to persuade a judge to force the prisoner’s attendance in court. If the judge agrees that a defendant should be present, the matter is deferred to the prison governor. The prison governor must then decide what reasonable steps should be taken to secure attendance.

As mentioned above, the prisoner can be brought to court in handcuffs. Prison officers can also use force to take a reluctant prisoner to court, which is typically avoided due to safety risks.

Speak to our solicitors

We understand why our clients might not want to attend court, but we urge you to discuss this with one of our criminal defence lawyers before the date of the hearing. We will advise what impact it could have on you and your case.

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