Lucy Letby faces spending the rest of her life in prison when she is sentenced on Monday for murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six more at the Countess of Chester hospital.
The neonatal nurse, the worst child serial killer in modern British history, would become only the third woman to be given a whole-life order should the judge pass such a sentence, as has been suggested, at the hearing at Manchester crown court.
Letby has previously indicated she does not intend to return to court to hear her sentence passed, nor follow the hearing via videolink from prison.
The judge, Mr Justice Goss, has said the court has no power to force her to attend a sentencing hearing. But the former justice secretary Robert Buckland called for proceedings to be broadcast into Letby’s cell, regardless of her wishes, saying she should have to listen to the victim impact statements.
Buckland told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that defendants should not be allowed to dictate the timing of proceedings by refusing to voluntarily come from the cells, and the court should be given further measures to compel them.
He added: “The government is probably going to have to look at ways they can increase the consequences upon defendants for not attending. In other words, to either create and extend the principle of contempt of court by statute to cover this refusal – a separate procedure that would attract a further sentence of imprisonment. Or to facilitate better ways in which defendants have nowhere to hide when it comes to listening to – or being made to listen to – court proceedings, even if they’re in the cell.”
Steve Brine, the Conservative chair of the health select committee, has called for a judge-led statutory inquiry to examine Letby’s crimes. He expressed concern the non-statutory independent inquiry announced by the government would not have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence, and could drag on for years and “disappear down a rabbit hole”, he told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House.
But the children’s minister Claire Coutinho said instituting a non-statutory inquiry meant a conclusion could be reached more quickly.
Asked if the inquiry should not be given statutory powers, as many have suggested, she told Sky News: “There are different benefits to both. With a statutory inquiry, it means you can compel people to give evidence. With a non-statutory inquiry is often much quicker.
“I think, in this case, everyone wants to make sure that this will never ever happen again and I think speed is of the essence to make sure that expectant parents across the country can feel assured that they know that there are steps in place to make sure that this won’t happen again.”
Police believe Letby may have harmed dozens more infants at two hospitals in the north-west of England. A source with knowledge of the police investigation told the Guardian detectives had identified about 30 babies who had suffered “suspicious” incidents at the Countess of Chester hospital, where she worked.
Prisoners given a whole-life order are only considered for release if there are exceptional compassionate grounds. Under the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, which passed through parliament last year, the government has expanded the use of whole-life orders for premeditated murder of a child.