Another post, another Ken. The furore over Ken Clarke’s rape comments is still spreading across the blogosphere. By any standards it was not a good performance – see the full text of the interview at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-13444770.
One of the aspects less commented on has been his confusion between rape and what used to be called unlawful sexual intercourse – now the offence of sexual activity with a child. As any law undergrad should know these are separate offences. The tariffs overlap, for sure, and data suggest convictions for the latter tend to attract a lesser sentence, nevertheless, to conflate them to explain the average sentence for rape looks like a poor smokescreen or ignorance. Not great either way.
The question of seriousness is, as our Ken discovered, a minefield. Yes, in one sense we know what he was trying to say – technically, there may be degrees of “seriousness” in terms of the commission of the offence: the degree of violence used, etc, does make a difference to the sentence imposed. But that in itself is controversial and difficult, and it doesn’t make any rape per se any the less a serious sexual assualt. I think Clarke understands that, but it did not come across. His broad reference to date rape as another factor explaining lower sentences does little to dispell the bad impression being created. Result: hush puppy squarely in mouth on a very sensitive criminal justice issue.