Vera Baird DBE KC

Writer, Lecturer, Parliamentary Consultant and Co-Director of Astraea: Gender Justice

Ken Clarkes 50% sentence discounts

Vera appeared on the Today programme on the 18th of June and wrote this follow up to her comments on Ken Clarke\’s proposed 50% sentence discounts.

Ken Clarke’s comments on rape were not “ a factual statement” that some rapes are more serious than others, as he pretended when doorstepped by TV cameras on Friday.  Crimes vary in gravity, of course, but  in his interview with Victoria Derbyshire he contrasted “classic rape” or “proper rape” which he described as a man jumping out of a bush and raping someone,  with “date rape” for purposes of suggesting that a five year sentence was not the standard for the far more serious first kind. This was his blustering response to being confronted with the reality that rapists may serve only 15 months in prison if his plan to halve sentences for guilty pleas is adopted.
It is that contrast which has provoked the wrath and despair of women campaigners who for years have worked to  overcome the prejudice that by consenting to be in a man’s company or having had an earlier relationship with him, women somehow half-imply consent to sex so that any rape that follows is not a “proper rape”.  Since 80% of rapes are committed by people known to the victim, there are a lot of women who have suffered the consequences of this kind of attack and of the “well what do you expect” tendency in public opinion and criminal justice. This kind of prejudice is a big reason why only about one in ten women who are raped complain to the authorities at all. The rest keep well away, expecting to be greeted by a Ken Clarke-like figure who belittles their suffering by believing that they haven’t been properly raped.
Rape is mostly done by former partners or friends. There is abundant psychological research to show that “acquaintance rape” can have worse consequences on the survivor than “out of a bush rape” because it makes the victim call into question her own judgment for being with the man whilst leaving her with the overall trauma any kind of rape invariably leaves.  The Sentencing Guidelines make clear that acquaintance rape is just as serious as stranger rape but Mr Clarke shares the public prejudices to the contrary. For the record, the starting point for a sentence for any kind of rape is precisely 5 years and defendants serve only have of that in custody so that halving five years will produce a period to serve of the 15 months Mr Clarke got himself in trouble trying to deny.  Don’t take it from me – the Council of Circuit Judges was in the Mail last Wednesday morning saying so.
Thus far Mr Clarke doesn’t know that he is out of date in counting stranger rape more serious than other rape and thinks the sentence for rape is more than five years when it isn’t. His stupidity was brought on by  junior minister, Crispin Blunt who specifically asserted that halving sentences was just the job for rape complainants who would not have to testify since their assailants would be induced to stop” messing about” as Mr Clarke put it and plead guilty. I should think Downing Street is furious with Blunt for focussing the measure on the least suitable crime.
A defendant does not plead guilty and take a discounted sentence for any other reason but that he strongly expects to be found guilty and given an undiscounted one. Of rape cases which are reported 7.5% produce a guilty verdict or plea of guilty in the end. Who will plead guilty when he has at that stage, a 92.5% chance of being acquitted? Try thinking sometimes Mr Clarke.