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Clarke's 50 per cent discount plan 'to be ditched'

19 May 2011

Justice secretary Ken Clarke’s plans to increase the discount on sentences for early guilty pleas from a third to 50 per cent will be ditched, Downing Street sources are reported to have told the media.

Clarke was at the centre of a furious row yesterday for comments he made about rape, one example of a serious offence where the discounts would be available under the sentencing green paper. Labour leader Ed Milliband demanded Clarke’s resignation.

Clarke promised this morning to choose his words more carefully but said he was merely describing a long-standing situation in which sentences differ depending on the circumstances of a particular rape.

Lord Justice Thomas, deputy head of criminal justice, and Lord Justice Goldring, senior presiding judge of England and Wales, warned last month that the plans to increase discounts for guilty pleas could lead to a “real risk of loss of confidence by the public in the criminal justice system” (see solicitorsjournal.com, 7 April 2011).

A spokeswoman for the MoJ said anyone who committed a serious violent or sexual offence would continue to receive a long prison sentence.

“The 50 per cent discount is the maximum reduction under consideration,” she said. “It will only be available for those who plead guilty at the earliest opportunity.

“It will certainly not apply to every guilty plea – only if offenders plead at the earliest opportunity. Judges will of course retain discretion over sentences in individual cases.

“It is right that we continue to incentivise early guilty pleas. They can reduce the number of victims of crimes like rape who are forced to relive the trauma that they suffered and be subject to cross-examination in court.”

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Procedures Local government