Sir Keir Starmer is facing fresh pressure to come clean on his role in deciding sentencing guidelines for child sex abusers.
Labour has faced days of condemnation for a series of ‘attack ads’ which claim Rishi Sunak does not think child sex abusers or thieves should go to prison.
Last night Sir Keir broke his silence amid the backlash to say he stands by ‘every word Labour has said’ on crime – even if it makes people ‘squeamish’.
But his comments provoked fresh anger among Labour MPs and led to calls for him to explain his own role in deciding sentencing for child sexual abuse.
As director of public prosecutions, Sir Keir was on the Sentencing Council for some of the period referred to in the attack ads.
Labour has faced days of condemnation for a series of ‘attack ads’ which claim Rishi Sunak does not think child sex abusers or thieves should go to prison
Last night Sir Keir Starmer (pictured) broke his silence amid the backlash to say he stands by ‘every word Labour has said’ on crime – even if it makes people ‘squeamish’
He sat on the council in 2012 when it was agreed child sex abusers should not get an automatic prison sentence, although a maximum of 14 years in custody was set.
A Conservative Party spokesman told the Mail that the Labour leader should ‘apologise’ for the impact of his decisions on sentencing.
‘Since Sir Keir left the Sentencing Council and stopped having a say in the guidelines, the average sentence for rape has increased to nearly ten years’ imprisonment compared to eight years in 2010,’ the spokesman said.
‘Rapists also spend more of their sentence in prison now because the Government ended automatic half way release for serious sexual and violent offenders.
‘Of course, being a human rights barrister, Sir Keir voted against this change. He should apologise to the families and victims he let down.’
Senior Tory MP Sir John Hayes added: ‘The Labour leader and Labour Party have got to come clean on where they stand on crime and punishment…
‘Do they want to punish people more severely, do they want to lock up people for longer, or are they going to be where they have always been which is soft on crime?’
He said Sir Keir has ‘got to be frank about whether he has been on a journey, whether there has been a catharsis and he has woken up to the facts’.
Sir John added: ‘Like so many people on the Left they start from the wrong position on this subject and he has to explain to people and maybe apologise for what has happened in the past and face up to the fact that what the public want is tougher sentences for more people.’
In a car-crash interview this morning, Labour shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry was unable to say whether Sir Keir objected to proposals that not all child sex abusers should be jailed automatically.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘I don’t know the details of what the exact guidance is in relation to the Sentencing Council, but I do know this, that it is open to Parliament to set minimum and maximum sentences.’
Ms Thornberry said it should be the ‘default position’ that an adult convicted of sexually assaulting a child will go to prison.
But a Labour government would not fund any more prison places, she said, ‘because we’re a party of optimism’.
She continued: ‘What we need to do is we need to look at it from the very beginning to the very end of the criminal justice system.
‘If we had more community police officers on the street, which we do commit to and we have a clear idea of where the funding comes from in relation to that, we would be able to catch people earlier.’
The row centres on a tweet in which Labour highlighted analysis of official data and said that under the Tories ‘4,500 adults convicted of sexually assaulting children under-16 served no prison time’.
A Conservative Party spokesman told the Mail that the Labour leader (pictured) should ‘apologise’ for the impact of his decisions on sentencing
The row centres on a tweet in which Labour highlighted analysis of official data and said that under the Tories ‘4,500 adults convicted of sexually assaulting children under-16 served no prison time’. A different analysis stated: ‘Under the Tories, 937 adults convicted of possession of a firearm with intent to harm served no prison time’
Alongside a photo of the Prime Minister (pictured), it read: ‘Do you think adults convicted of sexually assaulting children should go to prison? Rishi Sunak doesn’t.’
Alongside a photo of the Prime Minister, it read: ‘Do you think adults convicted of sexually assaulting children should go to prison? Rishi Sunak doesn’t.’
However, judges and magistrates, rather than the prime minister of the day, are responsible for handing out sentences.
The figures Labour highlighted cover the period since 2010, five years before Mr Sunak entered Parliament. He did not become Prime Minister until October last year.
A Labour spokesman last night said the Sentencing Council guidance to judges was not the reason that 4,500 adults have avoided jail after sexually assaulting a child.
The spokesman said: ‘The Sentencing Council guidance to judges recommended custodial sentences for all adults convicted of sexually assaulting children except in very specific circumstances.
‘The Government is in charge of the criminal justice system more widely, which is seeing prisons too full of reoffenders to allow judges to lock up dangerous criminals.
‘Judges were issued guidance in March to be mindful of the prison population when handing out sentences.’
‘It is also the Government that sets the statutory framework for sentencing. In March, Dominic Raab amended the rules to decrease maximum sentences in magistrates courts.’