HC Deb 05 December 1983 vol 50 cc13-4
64. Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson

asked the Attorney-General on how many occasions he has led for the prosecution in a case of rape since he became Attorney-General.

The Solicitor-General

None during my right hon. and learned Friend's term of office.

Mr. McNair-Wilson

I appreciate that it must be for the Attorney-General to decide in which cases he wishes to prosecute, but has my hon. and learned Friend noted that last year in England and Wales a record number of cases of rape were reported to the police and that the average sentence served, or given to rapists in England and Wales, is less than three years? Do not those figures suggest that the judiciary is being unduly lenient towards those committing that dreadful crime?

The Solicitor-General

I have not done that research myself, but I entirely share my hon. Friend's abhorrence of the offence of rape. The law reflects that and the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. The Court of Appeal and the Lord Chief Justice in particular have said that, save in the most exceptional case, the proper penalty will always be one of immediate imprisonment. The power to sentence a rapist to life imprisonment is by no means neglected by the courts in practice.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

Is not the Solicitor-General very concerned at the decision last week of Judge Michael Argyle to impose an 18-month suspended sentence on a rapist? What can Parliament do, and what legislation and initiatives can we propose, to prevent judges from taking such stupid decisions?

The Solicitor-General

The only comment that I would make on that case is that the report that I read of it—which was limited to the Daily Express—made it clear that it was an attempted rape. The sentence was 18 months suspended. Every case depends on the facts and it is very seldom possible for a newspaper, with the constrictions on its space, to do full justice to all the facts involved. I have no further comment to make about that case.

Mr. John Morris

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman bear in mind the traumatic experience faced by any woman in making a rape allegation and in the subsequent trial? Will he consult the Home Secretary so that the necessary improvements in the investigation of rape allegations are continued, especially bearing in mind the television programme last year about the Thames Valley police? Will he ensure that a more sympathetic approach is maintained and universally applied?

The Solicitor-General

I very much sympathise with the right hon. and learned Gentleman's opening remarks. He will know that in March this year the then Home Secretary issued a circular to chief police officers setting out the guidelines for the investigation of complaints of rape made by women, and stating that there was a particular need to ensure that such complaints were dealt with sympathetically and tactfully by trained officers.