Labour’s Shadow Justice Minister Promises Minimum Sentence of Seven Years for Rapists

Labour’s Shadow Justice Minister Promises Minimum Sentence of Seven Years for Rapists
The Labour Party's shadow justice minister, Ellie Reeves, is pictured at the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London, on Feb. 27, 2023. (PA)
Chris Summers

The opposition Labour Party has said it would introduce minimum sentences of seven years in prison for rape, while also promising to introduce specialist rape courts and a domestic violence register.

Shadow justice minister Ellie Reeves said that if elected, Labour would bring in minimum sentences for rape for the first time, while repeating an accusation she made last year that the Conservative government had “effectively decriminalised rape.”

Conviction rates for rape cases overall have fallen to 1.6 percent, meaning that around one-in-60 people accused of rape in an official complaint to the police end up being convicted of the charge.

In July of last year, rape prosecutions fell to an all-time low in England and Wales.

Reeves said: “What we would do in government is introduce a minimum sentence of seven years, we think that that would send a really, really clear signal that this sort of behaviour is just absolutely abhorrent and wrong.”

Reeves—who serves under the shadow justice secretary Steve Reed—made the announcement in an interview with the PA news agency in which she fleshed out how Labour would combat Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG).

The last three years have witnessed a series of shocking cases that have highlighted violence against women.

In March 2021, Sarah Everard was abducted from a street in south London by a serving police officer, Wayne Couzens, who raped and killed her in Kent. In September 2021, Sabina Nessa was accosted in a park in south London and beaten to death.
Last month a report by the Inspectorate of Probation highlighted a “catalogue of errors” made in the case of Jordan McSweeney, who murdered Zara Aleena in June 2022—only days after his being released from prison. Earlier this month another police officer, David Carrick, was jailed for life for a series of rapes and other sexual offences against 12 women over an 18-year period.
Reeves said she would make combating VAWG her “number-one priority” and she accused the government, including Justice Secretary Dominic Raab, of lacking the political will to tackle it.

Government Accused of Lacking ‘Political Will’

Reeves said: “If you have the political will, you would just get on and do it. And that seems to be lacking. They are not the party of law and order, Labour is, because we are saying we would actually do these things and get on with doing them.”

Reeves said specialist rape courts would help speed up the time it takes to bring cases to trial—as longer case processing times tend to increase the likelihood of complainants dropping out.

She said: “Within the courts, you would have judges who are routinely hearing rape cases, so they understand the issues, they have had training in myths and stereotypes about victims.”

A study published last week by researchers at University College London found the conviction rate for cases heard before a jury had risen from 55 percent to 75 percent since 2007.
The Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, recently announced plans for a domestic abuse register, something Reeves said Labour had been proposing for several years.

Last year Reeves was criticised by former government minister Dame Andrea Leadsom for saying the government had “decriminalised” rape. Leadsom said her comments had served to undermine “the confidence of women across this country in our judicial system.”

Asked if she stood by her comments, Reeves said: “I do stand by the comments and when prosecutions for rape are only one in 100, you have effectively decriminalised rape.”

“Frankly, it’s not my words that are deterring women from coming forward, it is this government’s inaction in tackling violence against women and girls that’s letting women down and deterring them from coming forward,” said Reeves.

She said the Labour Party would invest £4 million in rolling out a system of “legal advocates for rape survivors,” who she said would support women “from the moment they report it at a police station right through to trial.”

Last month, however, Eleanor Williams was convicted of perverting the course of justice after she claimed she had been groomed, raped, trafficked and beaten by an Asian grooming gang in the town of Barrow in the north of England. Williams posted pictures of her supposed injuries on Facebook in May 2020, while her post was shared more than 100,000 times and a Facebook group—called Justice for Ellie—was even set up in its wake.

Labour’s Actions ‘Don’t Match Their Empty Words’

Minister of State for Victims and Sentencing Edward Argar said the number of people convicted of an adult rape offence went up by 65 percent over the last year, and he said Labour’s actions on serious crime “don’t match their empty words.”

Argar said: “They have consistently voted against tougher sentences for rape and failed to properly support victims when they were in power.”

He added: “This government has increased sentences, quadrupled funding for victims, increased rape convictions by two thirds last year and just this week announced that we are putting the most dangerous domestic abusers on the sex offenders register. Only the Conservatives can be trusted to deliver the support and justice that victims of rape deserve.”

A general election is expected to be called by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak next year, or possibly later this year.

PA Media contributed to this report.