British minister refuses to quit in rape comment row

19th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

British Justice Secretary Ken Clarke on Thursday rejected calls to resign over controversial remarks he made about rape, but said he would choose his words more carefully in the future.

The veteran Conservative politician refused to apologise after widespread condemnation of his apparent suggestion that date rape was not "serious rape", saying he had described how the law distinguished between different situations.

"If I caused genuine offence to anybody by explaining that long-standing factual situation, then I must have made a very poor choice of words, so I shall try to choose my words more carefully in the future," he said.

The row started Wednesday as Clarke went on a radio show to discuss a government proposal to increase the sentencing discount given to all suspects who plead guilty from 33 percent to 50 percent, to avoid unnecessary and expensive trials.

Concerns were raised that this would give rapists an easy ride, amid an already paltry six-percent conviction rate for the offence. Although the maximum sentence is life, the average jail term is currently eight years.

Asked why it was so low, Clarke appeared to draw a distinction between date rape -- involving people who know each other socially -- and "serious rape, with violence and an unwilling woman".

Put to him that "rape is rape", Clarke answered: "No, it's not."

Women's groups reacted angrily to his remarks and opposition Labour leader Ed Miliband called for Clarke to quit, saying he "cannot speak for the women of this country when he makes comments like that".

Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman said he had full confidence in Clarke, but said he should clarify his comments -- which Clarke did in a round of television interviews Wednesday, and again Thursday.

Speaking outside his home, Clarke said: "I've always said that all rape is serious, and I've no intention of changing the sentencing guidelines on rape, which always attracts serious imprisonment, quite rightly.

"Different rapes get different lengths of sentences from judges and always have, and they now follow sentencing guidelines which explain the different degrees which justify difference sentences."

Clarke, who is also a former finance minister, laughed off suggestions that he should resign, saying: "To resign for proposals I've never made or thought of making would be just a little odd."

© 2011 AFP

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