Labour has accused the Conservatives of handing nearly 4,000 rapists “shockingly short” jail terms, as the party continued to attack personally Rishi Sunak’s handling of sentencing.
Sir Keir Starmer’s party was defying criticism over claims in its attack adverts that the Prime Minister does not think child sex abusers should go to prison.
Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry defended the campaign as she said the many critics, including those who described it as “racist”, are “wrong”.
In its bid to be seen as tough on crime, Labour published analysis showing 3,876 adult rapists have received a prison sentence of less than seven years since 2010.
The Opposition has vowed to introduce a seven-year minimum sentence for rape.
Shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said: “Rape has effectively been decriminalised, with barely one in every 100 reported rapes resulting in a charge.
“Now we find that those few rapists who are convicted may receive shockingly short jail terms, or might not end up jailed at all.”
Separate research from the party suggested almost 6,000 criminal cases involving drug trafficking last year were dropped without a suspect being found.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper claimed the “gangs are getting away” following the Conservatives’ “huge cuts to neighbourhood policing” as she pledged stronger action.
Critics on Labour’s left joined Conservatives in criticising the campaign claiming Mr Sunak does not think adults convicted of sexually assaulting children should be jailed.
But Ms Thornberry said it is a “legitimate question” to ask.
She told BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions: “I heard a lot of people criticising it, and a lot of people who I like and respect criticising it and saying they felt very uncomfortable about it. Some people said that they thought it was racist.
“I have to say, I think they’re wrong. I just disagree with that. I think the truth is we do need to have a debate in this country, and Rishi Sunak is the Prime Minister and he is responsible for a broken justice system.”
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.
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell has urged his party to climb down, saying: “This is not the sort of politics a Labour Party, confident of its own values and preparing to govern, should be engaged in.
“I say to the people who have taken the decision to publish this ad, please withdraw it. We, the Labour Party, are better than this.”
The Conservative Party used the row to attack the record of Sir Keir, a former director of public prosecutions.
A spokesman said: “Since Sir Keir Starmer left the sentencing council, the average sentence for rape has increased to nearly 10 years imprisonment compared to eight years in 2010.
“Rapists also spend more of their sentence in prison now because the Government ended automatic halfway release for serious sexual and violent offenders. Of course, being a human rights barrister, Sir Keir voted against this change.”