As the dust around Ken Clarke begins to settle, it could be tempting to think that the criminal justice system now recognises the serious nature of all rapes. On a national level however, rapists and child sex offenders, as with other criminals, still stand to benefit from a proposed "buy one, get one free" attitude to sentencing, whereby an early guilty plea will cut the sentence by half, even before any amendment to the proportion of that sentence that offenders have to serve inside a prison.
That the Government could cut the effective punishment for rapes is far from being the only example of the state viewing rape as less than serious.
One night two years ago in my ward, while you and I were campaigning in County Council elections, an 11-year-old girl who had been playing in the street underwent a horrific sexual assault. In this case the criminal justice system was surprisingly quick, securing a guilty plea to attempted rape and a sentence within six months, but the case had gone to the Youth Court, not the Crown Court, and her 15-year-old assailant’s punishment was a twelve month referral order, a requirement to have regular talks with someone about his offending behaviour – or somewhere between a slap on the wrist and ‘don’t do it again’ (See here for further coverage).
My attempt to refer this unduly lenient sentence to the Attorney General fell at the first hurdle, as the Attorney can refer lenient Crown Court sentences back to the courts, but not those of the Youth Courts. The local Youth Justice System, by not sending the case to the Crown Court, had denied the victim any chance to have the sentence reviewed. Was the crime she suffered not “serious”? Was the impact on her any the less because the person who attacked her was 15, rather than 21?