No regrets? Clarke clings to sentencing discounts

By Alex Stevenson

Ken Clarke has continued to defend his sentencing discount policy – despite it being dropped by David Cameron last week.

The justice secretary said there had been "a lot of silly press stories" about the U-turn after abandoning the policy following a lengthy consultation.

But in an interview on the Today programme this morning he made clear he would have preferred to introduce the policy nonetheless.

"It's a pity from the point of view of victims and witnesses that we couldn't introduce the 50% discount, it wasn't going to apply in every case and the judge was going to apply some discretion," he said.

Mr Clarke said reducing sentences by as much as 50% in return for suspects agreeing to plead guilty would have saved £100 million and stopped "more of the 10,000 who drag their victims all the way to court".

"It would have saved a lot of money, but the trouble was there were going to be some serious sentences that doing it quite so mathematically would make the time in prison too short," he added.

"In the end I decided to drop it. It was only one of many changes I made to consultation… the prime minister never ordered me to do anything."

Mr Clarke was widely viewed as being forced to abandon the policy after an intervention from David Cameron. He vigorously denied that – as well as the suggestion the policy reversal was a U-turn.

"If you change something, everybody gets wildly excited about a U-turn," he said.

"This actually, I don't see this as a U-turn. It's been this huge process of consultation with thousands of responses. It is not easy just to put out proposals without having to modify them in the light of what people have said."

The justice secretary said he would seek to find the £100 million savings which would have been gained from sentencing discounts elsewhere.

He pledged to reform the criminal justice system by cutting £2 billion from its £9 billion budget, claiming its spending was "completely out of hand".

Half of this would come from administration cuts, including making people redundant. "Quite a lot" will come from legal aid.

"We finance a vast amount of litigation out of all proportion compared to other countries," he said.

"We're trying to make the criminal justice system work better to protect people. It doesn't protect people because we just let them out of prison and within a year, half of them have been caught, convicted and are back again."