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Ken Clarke – a trial by modern social media

Judge: ‘Ladies and Gentleman of the twittersphere have you reached a verdict?’

Twittersphere: ‘Yes your honour – we find the defendant guilty of endangering the lives of women and think he should be out of a position where he can endanger any women post haste’

Judge: ‘Don’t men get raped too?’

Twittersphere: ‘No they don’t. Only women. Ken Clarke is endangering women and deserves to be sacked immediately’

Judge: ‘Just checking if you read the proposals that he is putting forward?’

Twittersphere: ‘Of course we did what do you takes us for? Reactionary morons?”

Judge: ‘So you know that there is already a plea bargaining deal in law where judges can – can not have to – reduce sentences by up to a third in any case with receipt of an early not guilty plea?’

Twittersphere: ‘Plea bargaining wha…?’

Judge: ‘Plea Bargaining. That is what these proposals were all about’

Twittersphere: ‘No it wasn’t. It was all about Ken Clarke thinking rape wasn’t important and how he wants to let rapists out after 15 months’

Judge: ‘Who told you that?’

Twittersphere: ‘That is what Ed Miliband said in PMQs and Margaret Hodge backed up those thoughts on The Daily Politics Show afterwards’

Judge: ‘Ah I see. Well you have to remember that they are both using Clarke’s comments for political point scoring and they might not exactly be 100% on the mark with their comments’

Twittersphere: ‘What do you mean? Politicians never lie and certainly not the Labour ones. They think rape is serious and because of that they must know exactly what they are talking about’

Judge: ‘Everyone thinks rape is serious’

Twittersphere: ‘Ken Clarke doesn’t’

Judge: ‘When did he say that?’

Twittersphere: ‘Yesterday’

Judge: ‘Where did he say that?’

Twittersphere: ‘I’m not sure. I saw it on twitter’

Judge: ‘So everyone on twitter only deals in facts, not opinions or conjecture?’

Twittersphere: ‘Err…’

Judge: ‘Well he never ever said rape wasn’t serious and nor did he say he wanted to let rapists out of jail willy nilly’

Twittersphere: ‘Are you sure? The media seemed to be saying otherwise’

Judge: ‘I’m sure’

Twittersphere: ‘Oh. He must have said something to cause the furoré’

Judge: ‘The whole crux of the issue is he disagreed with BBC Radio 5Live Presenter that Rape is Rape’

Twittersphere: ‘Sack him. How dare he. All rape is as bad as every other rape. Rape in rape. Sack him. How would he like it if he was raped? Sack him. He should resign. Sack him!’

Judge: ‘So you disagree that there is a difference between a 17 year-old and 15 year-old having consensual sex and a masked man bursting into a home and raping an unsuspecting victim?’

Twittersphere: ‘Well I never said that…’

Judge: ‘Well you kinda did actually. Both are classed as rape in law’

Twittersphere: ‘Oh I see. Well he still shouldn’t have said it. Sack him’

Judge: ‘So what are you saying?’

Twittersphere: ‘Isn’t it clear? We think Ken Clarke should resign immediately or be sacked. His comments that all rape isn’t equal is deplorable and people with those thoughts cannot be allowed to govern and put the lives of women in danger’

Judge: ‘So all rape is rape and anyone that even questions this is insane’

Twittersphere: ‘Yes. Finally you are getting it’

Judge: ‘Do you know or did you ever have sex with anyone before you were 16?’

Twittersphere: ‘That is none of your business judge’

Judge: ‘Well did you or do you?’

Twittersphere: ‘Well not me personally but when I was in Year 11 at school I may have known of one or two people who had sex where one of them hadn’t turned 16. Only one or two mind you’

Judge: ‘Do you class the older members of that sexual act as rapists?

Twittersphere: ‘Of course I don’t. You are an idiot judge. How dare you.

Judge: ‘The law does. That is what Ken Clarke was saying albeit in a dumb way’

Twittersphere: Well Ken Clarke is right then. You are the idiot judge. Claiming that when my 15 year-old girlfriend gave me a blow job after a GCSE Maths exam behind the bike sheds makes me a rapist’

Judge: ‘So you are saying Ken Clarke actually was on to something’

Twittersphere: ‘Wait. No. You tricked me’

Judge: ‘I’m just trying to clarify what Ken Clarke was actually trying to say’

Twittersphere: ‘Oh, but he did say that judges will now be ordered to give a 50% discount on all rape sentences if the defendant pleads guilty right?

Judge: ‘No’

Twittersphere: ‘But…’

Judge (interjecting): ‘What he said and what these proposals were set to do was give judges more leeway in every criminal case. The initial interviewer Victoria Derbyshire used rape as it is the most emotive of all cases to illistrate her point and that is where this all stems from. Judges can chose the length of sentence in any criminal case from a set of tariffs. Under these proposals a defendant could in the most extreme circumstances get an extra 17% off their sentences for an early guilty plea. Clearly anyone getting a slightly softer sentence would satisfy any judge that they were full of remorse and there were extreme mitigating circumstances.’

Twittersphere: ‘So all rapists won’t be free in 15 months ready to rape again?’

Judge: ‘No’

Twittersphere: ‘Oh that isn’t what I thought. Can you ask us again what we think of Ken Clarke?’

Judge: ‘Sure. Ladies and Gentlemen of the twittersphere have you reached a verdict?’

Twittersphere: ‘Yes your honour – we find the defendant guilty of endangering the lives of women and think he should be out of a position where he can endanger any women post haste’

(Judge bangs head on desk)

End Scene 1.

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  5. Meh Meh

    I enjoyed this but your portrayal of the twittersphere is unduly flattering.

  6. chris chris

    Even within date-rape there has to be some differentiation of severity. The woman (or man) who wakes up and realises that, in an alcohol fuddled state, they’ve slept with someone unpleasant could, technically, argue that they’ve been raped, as they didn’t give consent, or at least can’t remember it. That differs from the situation wherein drugs, including alcohol, have been deliberately administered in order to render someone unconscious or incapable of consenting or not. Such differentiations are best left, in my view, to a jury.

  7. Tommy Tommy

    Theft is theft, but there’s still burglary, robbery, and fraud, amongst others, as legal distinctions. The notion that no one rape is more serious than others does not mean that all rape is not serious, just as the death of a 40-year old man is tragic but the death of an eight-year old child is more so, or that shooting someone in the back of the head is a grave offence, but that torturing the individual to death is worse. The real issue here is the horrifically low conviction rate for rape, and I’m not sure that’s helped by requiring a jury to put every defendant in the same bracket as the Night Stalker to deliver a conviction.

  8. JDT JDT

    While you’ve undoubtedly captured the dynamic of the twitter hysteria and how it’s unhelpful to a constructive debate, I can’t help but feel you’ve also obstructed a couple of the main genuine grievances people had with Ken Clarke’s initial interview.

    Firstly, that he seemed to imply that date rape was a “less serious” form of rape. In his later clarification interview on the BBC, he admits he misused the term “date rape”, having believed it to mean the consenting 17 year old and 15 year old situation. This appearance of trivialising acquaintance rape understandably offended people, as it’s an unfortunately pervasive view that rape is only rape if it’s by a stranger and significant force is used — to the extent that American Republican recently tried to redefine rape to only include those “use of force” situations. (

    Secondly, he seemed to have less familiarity than you’d hope from a Justice Secretary with the legal definitions of rape versus other offences detailed in the Sexual Offences Act 2003, most notably the confusion with regard to unlawful sexual intercourse with a child over 13, which is, as the above commenter says, rarely prosecuted as it’s not in the public interest. The whole issue of 17 year olds and 15 year olds is a complete red herring in this debate and it’s unfortunate that you don’t raise that in your otherwise admirable sketch.

    Frankly, the only thing Ken Clarke is really guilty of here is being under-briefed, unclear and using incorrect terminology. The length of time it took to wrench a proper clarification out of him suggests a degree of arrogance and complacency, but if you sacked politicians for that we wouldn’t need a boundary review bill to slash the size of the Commons.

  9. am am

    So… to make a cheap point about how twitter is full of ‘reactionary fools’ you demean the reactions of everyone who was genuinely upset by the actual words he said. There is no point in plea bargaining if rape victims are going to be too scared to come forward because of people like him who will say they weren’t ‘raped’ because they were drunk, because they knew their attacker, becuase they werent beaten up etc. rape is rape and he denied that.

  10. Admin: it’s not “unlawful sexual assault”, as I understand it, it’s “unlawful sexual intercourse”; under 13 it’s rape, as a 12 year old is deemed unable to consent – so, just to be clear, it’s still not ‘statutory rape’.

    Also, where the older party (doesn’t have to be male, as penetration isn’t necessary for ‘sexual intercourse’ these days, AIUI) is only 17 with a 15 year-old younger, it’s unusual to prosecute.

  11. Any attempt to make a distinction between date rape, stranger rape, violent rape, in the context of severity of criminal acts, is misguided and frankly moronic. Suggesting such a distinction, as Clarke did, feeds into the ‘date rape isn’t real rape’ view many seem to have, and that’s the justified reason that many are upset.

    Unfortunately, the truly misguided rage a lot are expressing helps to shield Clarke from actually answering the problematic aspects, as he can just answer the idiotic aspects.

    Suggesting that there’s some sort of canonical “violence, dark alley” form of rape is also a problem.

    All rape is violent; arguably all are physically violent, though there is room for debate there, but there’s violence that isn’t physical as well. Clarke clearly has a very out-of-date understanding of these issues. Hysterical overreaction shield Clarke from having actually engage on the issues.

  12. Kate Kate

    Most serious commentators haven’t been concerned with Clarke’s references to consensual sex between a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old. Nor is anyone disputing the fact that some rapes are quite horrifically violent, and should be punished accordingly. What is disturbing is Clarke’s suggestion that so-called ‘date rape’ is somehow a less serious form of rape than rape by a stranger. This is what many people find indefensible. It does not reflect the reality of most rapes, in which the perpetrator is known to the victim. It also harks back to the vile old myth that ‘date rape isn’t really rape’ – that if a man buys someone a couple of drinks and drives them home, well, he’s almost entitled to expect sex in return. Disgusting.

  13. Dan Dan

    I can’t help feeling that some legal bloggers are setting up straw man arguments here. I can’t speak for Twitter (who can?), and don’t say Clarke should be sacked necessarily but I think a lot of people are aware of the context, and it was the use of “serious rape” opposed to non-stranger rape (marital rape then) that bothered a lot of people.

    I can’t fully understand this from people who know a lot about Twitter. And the immediate assumption of pure opportunism from Miliband, which if you think about it, is a pretty gross accusation.

    I’m glad Clarke has come out more strongly today on the issue and that the new maximum will be reconsidered. There may be evidence it would make little difference.

  14. Rob Rob

    He also said there was ‘serious rape’. That is a direct quote.

    Can you let me know what the non-serious rape is?

    • admin admin

      There is no such thing as non-serious rape. Yes this isn’t a blow-by-blow account of what he said, more of a summary for how the twittersphere reacted yesterday. Clarke’s words were not great at all but the policy was actually not that radical – and nowhere near as radical as it was being made out to be. That was what I was trying to portray.

  15. admin admin

    Thank for your comments all. Sex of a youngster has to be 13 or under for it be classed as rape – 14-15 is classed as unlawful sexual assault. That is my mistake owing to my laziness. Apologies for that inaccuracy.

  16. Adrian C Adrian C

    Brilliant apart from your repetition of Clarke’s one big mistake. A 17 year old having sex with a 15 year old is NOT classed as rape in law. It’s unlawful sexual intercourse, an entirely separate offence. “Statutory rape” is an American term.

  17. Yes but… Contrary to what the judge says above (and Ken Clarke said), a 17 year old having consensual sex with a 15 year old is not classified as rape. There is no offence of ‘statutory rape’ in the UK. It is a separare offence of unlawful sexual intercourse and in situations where the male is under 24 and the girl is over 13, the CPS guidelines recommend that “considerable discretion” be exercised in deciding whether to prosecute. So the idea Clarke puts forward that every 17 year old who has consensual sex with a 15 year old will be charged with rape is not true. None of them will. Very few of them will even be charged with unlawful sexual intercourse. So the issue is not relevant to his proposals.

    He would have been better to stick to the comparison between violent rape from a stranger and date rape. That, of course, is harder for him to make a strong distinction on which may be why he chose the misleading comparison with underage teen sex.

  18. Stephen Stephen

    I have listened to the Clarke interview. I heard nothing untoward. Cats are cats but they are not all the same. The colour blue is blue but there are shades. So yeah, rape is rape but it varies as to its seriousness, It is obviously more serious when violence is used. Consensual teenage sex may fall foul of a statute but it is rape solely on technical grounds. This is much less serious that violent rape. What is all the fuss about?

  19. Jim Jim

    The thing that’s had my head spinning is the idea that some rapes aren’t more serious than others. Wha’? The fact that the tariff ranges from 5 years to life ought to be some kind of clue.

  20. This is absolutely golden. 10/10 for depressing accuracy!

  21. hushkypremier hushkypremier

    That about sums it up. Nicely put.

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