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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Kenneth Clarke to ditch 'soft justice' reforms

Kenneth Clarke to ditch 'soft justice' reforms

Plans by Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, to halve the prison sentences of thousands of criminals will be abandoned after a political backlash and the personal intervention of David Cameron.

By James Kirkup, 9:33AM BST 08 Jun 2011

David Cameron has told Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, that his plans are not acceptable to voters and Conservative MPs.

Mr Clarke’s department had proposed giving a 50 per cent discount on sentences to criminals who plead guilty.

Those who would have been eligible would have included rapists and other sex offenders. It emerged this week that as many as 10,000 criminals a year would have their sentences cut.

The Prime Minister and the Justice Secretary met to discuss the plans in Downing Street yesterday, where Mr Cameron made clear the proposal will have to be reconsidered.

Theresa May, the Home Secretary, today insisted the decision was not a U-turn.

"This is nothing like that, what it is a normal part of the process of government," she told the BBC.

Lord Howard, the former Home Secretary, said the Prime Minister was right to act because Mr Clarke’s plan would have been “an affront to many victims of crime”.

The decision could leave Mr Clarke with a financial problem, since shorter sentences were part of an effort to cut prison numbers and save money.

Abandoning the 50 per cent discount could cost Mr Clarke around £130 million a year.

Mr Cameron’s move could also reinforce the idea among some ministers that the Prime Minister is prepared to undermine them to preserve his own image.

Mr Clarke’s original proposals were published earlier this year in a Green Paper that was signed off by the Prime Minister.

Downing Street sources insisted that Mr Cameron still has complete confidence in the Justice Secretary, but political allies of Mr Clarke said he had been let down by the Prime Minister.

Mr Cameron’s doubts about the sentencing plan were revealed last month during a row over Mr Clarke’s remarks about rape sentences. The Justice Secretary raised controversy when he drew a distinction between “date rape” and “proper rape”.

Former Tory home secretary Lord Howard QC told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "As the Council of Judges pointed out, it would be an affront to many victims of crime if, as a consequence of that proposal, they saw people who were guilty of those crimes walking the streets of their neighbourhoods in a very short period of time.

"And I do not think it would have the desired effect of encouraging more people to plead guilty."

He went on: "Ken is an old friend of mine and he is a very robust character and he has encountered many greater difficulties than this during the course of his political career."

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