Ken Clarke to “choose words more carfelly” following rape row

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.

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6 Comments

Filed under Law and Order

6 responses to “Ken Clarke to “choose words more carfelly” following rape row

  1. You are right that Ken Clarke’s proposal to reduce prison sentences in exchange for an early admission of guilt is a pragmatic, money-saving measure. However, I think that this belies Ken Clarke’s preference for soft-sentencing. The need to make cuts is a convenient excuse to introduce the Tories’ ideologically-preferred soft-sentencing (they are, after all, liberals who believe that crime is sociological).

    I disagree that there should be a universal punishment for all rape. Out of interest, what would this universal punishment be? Could you really justify giving this sentence to both a rapist who forces himself, with violence, upon a woman and a man who sleeps consensually with a woman after drinking too much and, the next morning, the woman withdraws her consent?

    I don’t believe both can be punished equally. I’ve gone into depth on the Ken Clarke rape furore on my own blog, if you are interested.

    I’d be surprised if Clarke is severely chided by Cameron. Cameron is quite lenient with his fellow liberals.

  2. Louis JR Connor

    I disagree the Tories are “after all” liberals who all support a so called ‘softer’ approach to sentencing. As Ken Clarke himself alluded to on Question Time, more people would be locked-up if there was the money to build new prisons or expand on existing ones. So given the chance, tougher sentencing would actually be introduced.

    There is also significant opposition to Ken Clarkes plans for Prison reforms from within the Conservative Party amongst backbenchers. This pressure could still signal the end for Clarke’s reforms which is looking increasingly likely.

    A universal punishment for rape would not categorise different types of rape between, for example, ‘aggravated rape’ and ‘mitigated rape’. Within any sentencing a judge will consider the case at hand, which may lead to a range of sentencing terms being given in different cases – just like happens in murder cases for example. This does not however acknowledge that there are different ‘categories’ of rape. Rape is rape. In the hypothetical example you give, if a man and a woman consent to having sex then rape has not taken place even if after the act one of them “withdraws” consent. Your example would not even go to court.

    I agree with you that Clarke will probably keep his post for the forseeable future. But if his reforms continue to rile Tory backbenchers I wouldn’t be surprised to see him moved on in a re-shuffle.

    Cameron has been playing a balancing act ever since he became leader of the Conservatives. His attempts to re-brand the party towards a more liberal,middle-england outlook have been as forthright as his attempts to appease old Conservatives rigidly defending traditional conservative values. The austerity package currently being imposed by the Coalition is also arguably an example of some of the most right-wing fiscal policies this country has ever experienced – on a measure which far outweighs those implemented under Thatcher. So I don’t accept the view that Cameron and the Cabinet (bar Lib Dems) are “after-all” liberals. Arguably, Cameron’s failure to win an outright majority from the British public in 2010 is an example that the Tories are still as ‘true’ to their old conservative ideals than ever.

  3. Louis JR Connor

    Oh and I will check out your blog!

  4. Many thanks for your reply.

    The scenario of rape I presented would go to court and does. The case of Cambridge graduate Jack Gillett, for instance, is similar enough and the differences between my hypothetical example and Gillett’s experience only serve to strengthen my point. Gillett and his accuser were drunk and engaged in kissing and groping in his room. There was no penetration. At some point the accuser decided she had enough and he desisted. Nevertheless, he was accused of sexual assault and acquitted. The CPS were criticised for allowing the case to go to court and a spokeswoman for the CPS issued in its defence a statement saying that they take all allegations of sexual assault seriously.

    If the CPS are willing to prosecute cases where no penetration has taken place, they would, even were the circumstances are murky, prosecute cases of actual alleged rape. I mention this because you seem to doubt such cases go to court.

    About the Tories and whether they’re conservative or liberal:

    Ken Clarke fantasising about building more prisons isn’t conservative. A conservative thing to do would be to reintroduce beat policing to deter crime. Then there would be no need to keep building prisons which, these days, aren’t much worse than two-star hotels. Or reintroduce the death penalty. That would be a conservative thing to do.

    I don’t think Cameron has performed so much of a balancing act between old conservatism and new liberalism as he has fully embraced liberalism and pretended (around election time) to be conservative-minded to hoodwink traditional Tory voters (mostly by talking about implementing a mythical “cap” on immigration).

    I would also suggest that had Cameron embraced conservative policies in-line with the desires of much of the country (outside the London boroughs and the University towns) he would have won by a landslide.

    If he pledged to withdraw from the European Union, he would have won easily.

    Cameron is a committed liberal and its evident from his manipulation of party selection lists, by his pressurising of Oxford University to select its students by race and not by merit, by his failure to reintroduce grammar schools and oppose comprehensive schooling, by his “ring-fencing” of the NHS budget, by his pledge to increase foreign aid, by failing to end mass-immigration or to oppose multiculturalism, by failing to take a hard-line stance against drugs especially cannabis, by his waging of liberal-interventionist wars in countries where we have no business… The list goes on.

    There are conservative back-benchers who do object to Cameron’s liberalism but they are nothing more than a minor nuisance to him. The momentum is with the liberals in the party.

  5. Louis JR Connor

    No your scenario in your first reply was of two individuals consenting to sex, having sex, and then only after sex was consent withdrawn from one of the two. The Jack Gillett case you highlight is completely different. Going on what you say, it isn’t clear if consent was given prior to sex? or you imply that ‘during’ sex consent was withdrawn. In either case this is still different to the example you gave in your first reply where two people consent to sex, have sex, but then after one of them withdraws their consent. The Jack Gillett case from doing some online research is a case of sexual assault and not rape.

    Without going into point by point detail on what you have to say re: Cameron being Liberal. If Cameron had campaigned on withdrawal from the EU, ending immigration, opposing multiculturalism, re-introducing the death penalty, and other true conservative values you seem to support he certainly wouldn’t have won by a landslide. Besides, there are parties who do take up these antiquated policies and they dont even come close to representation in Westminster e.g. UKIP.

  6. It must have escaped your notice that I wrote “Nevertheless, he was accused of sexual assault and acquitted.” I am well aware it was a sexual assault case and not a rape case. I used it as a rebuttal of your claim that the CPS wouldn’t prosecute cases wherein a woman willingly engages in sex with a man but changes her mind about the rightness of the act the morning after and accuses him of violation.

    Anyway, there are other examples of rape accusations where the accuser seems to have changed her mind after the fact. These cases were prosecuted by the CPS (contrary to what you claim): http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7265307.stm

    About UKIP or an equivalent party: The reason they don’t do well at the elections is that the Conservative party still draws the bulk of conservative support out of misplaced tribal loyalty. If the Tories disappeared suddenly then a properly conservative party would prosper.

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