Ken Clarke’s future as Justice Secretary hangs in the balance following comments he made yesterday on BBC Radio 5 Live about rape.
The Justice Secretary was appearing on the Wednesday morning slot with Victoria Derbyshire where he was due to outline Government proposals to increase the sentence reduction for an early guilty plea from 33% to 50%.
The sentence reduction would mean that the most serious criminals – including rapists – could see their sentences reduced by 50% if they enter an early guilty plea. It is argued that early guilty pleas can spare victims of serious crime the ordeal of re-living their experience through a long court process. Although quite how this absolves the perpetrator of his or her maximum punishment is hard to draw? Whether a perpetrator of a serious violent crime such as rape enters an early guilty plea should be inconsequential – they should receive a sentence which fits the crime in all circumstances.
The real motivation behind Ken Clarke’s suggestions relate to what many backbench Tories call his ‘softer’ approach to our criminal justice system. Including the re-evaluation of sentencing, Clarke promised in a speech made in July 2010 that there would be a “rehabilitation revolution” in light of Ministry of Justice findings that reoffending rates are higher after shorter jail terms. Interestingly, the same findings recommended that longer prison sentences of 2 to 4 years are more effective than terms of under 12 months.
The move towards rehabilitation instead of the punitive ‘prison works’ Tory approach to crime we are used to is commendable and has garnered much support for Clarke from Lib Dems. But with cuts being made to every Government Department, the impetus behind any new legislation is saving money. Increasing the sentence reduction for early guilty please will save police and court time whilst reducing numbers in prison, and therefore reduce costs. But it is clear that Clarke should have avoided applying this new approach to the most serious violent offenders including rapists.
As for the comments made yesterday, it is clear they were completely shameful and are far less than one would expect from a Cabinet Minister in charge of overseeing our Criminal Justice System. Here is just a snippet of some of the worst moments from yesterdays interview between Clarke and Derbyshire (interestingly Derbyshire doesn’t pick-up on Clarke’s first questionable comment regarding “serious rape” and neither does Clarke seem to recognise he may have just made a mistake as he then goes on to talk of “rape in the ordinary sense”);
Clarke: Serious rape, I don’t think many judges give five years for a forcible rape, the tariff is longer than that. And a serious rape where, you know, violence and an unwilling woman, the tariff’s much longer than that.
‘Clarke: assuming you and I are talking about rape in the ordinary conversational sense.
Derbyshire: Rape is rape, with respect.’
Clarke: No it’s not
Clarke:Date rape can be as serious as the worst rapes.
Clarke:Except the kind of rape we’ve just heard about
Clarke:if they got that sentence depending on what the rape was.
Clarke’s comments are shameful. Throughout the interview it is clear that his sees the crime of rape as multifaceted. He alludes to there being different forms of rape in different circumstances which warrant different levels of punishment. This is completely absurd. Rape is rape, and the punishment for the crime must be universal.
It is quite clear from yesterdays comment that Ken Clarke has seriously jeopardised his position as Justice Secretary. David Cameron has avoided sacking the Minister with the PM’s spokesman saying it was “clearly regrettable” if offence was caused by Clarke’s comments.
Labour almost immediately capitalised on the rape row and called for Clarke’s resignation during PMQs.
Clarke has since vowed to “choose my words more carefully” and has argued he was merely outlining the “long-standing factual situation” that sentences can differ depending upon the varying circumstances of particular rape cases.
If he was outlining what the current situation is then he has failed to address a clear injustice. That the Criminal Justice System subconsciously applies a sliding-scale of punishment for rape. This oversight on Clarke’s part, and his failure to address it in forthcoming legislative proposals, should be enough for the Justice Secretary to be sacked. Taking into account his comments yesterday it is shocking he still remains in his post today.
Ken Clarke will be appearing on tonight’s Question Time, BBC1 10:35, broadcast from Wormwood Scrubs Prison.