Probe to examine potential racial bias in criminal justice

Topics: Equality and diversity,Government & politics

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Legal reform groups have welcomed a government-sponsored review of possible racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Prime minister David Cameron (pictured) announced yesterday that he has asked Labour MP and barrister David Lammy to investigate evidence of possible bias against black defendants and other ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system.


Cameron said: ‘If you’re black, you’re more likely to be in a prison cell than studying at a top university. And if you’re black, it seems you’re more likely to be sentenced to custody for a crime than if you’re white.

‘We should investigate why this is and how we can end this possible discrimination.’

The cross-departmental announcement states that BAME individuals make up nearly a quarter of Crown court defendants. Those who are found guilty are more likely to receive custodial sentences than white offenders.

Cameron said the review will include examining possible sentencing and prosecutorial ‘disparity’.

Justice secretary Michael Gove said an effective justice system ‘depends on procedural fairness’. Gove said: ‘Equality of treatment at every stage in the criminal justice process is essential.’

The Centre for Justice Innovation, which has long called for a justice system based on procedural fairness, welcomed the review.

Director Phil Bowen said feeling treated with respect and even-handedness ‘is as important as outcomes’.

‘Evidence shows that these perceptions of fairness have a major impact on people’s willingness to comply with the law,’ he added. ‘But we know that many people in ethnic minority communities don’t feel that the system is fair.

‘Therefore we trust the review will make recommendations that help increase the diversity of people working in our criminal justice system agencies and ensure that people from ethnic minority communities going through the system see it as neutral, respectful and fair.’

Greg Foxsmith, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, said advocates rarely encountered ‘overt racism’ from judges and magistrates.

‘Nonetheless, the statistics are stark and show that even in the years since the Macpherson report [in 1999], there remains unfairness within the justice system for people of different skin colour or ethnicity,’ he added.

‘For years we have acknowledged the problem of convert or subliminal discrimination. The challenge for Lammy and for all of us in the justice system is to find a way that actually tackles the problem, and ensures that justice is not just blind, but colour-blind, providing equality of outcome for all.’

Lammy will report back in spring 2017.

Readers' comments (27)

  • Let us hope that the research looks at antecedents and the nature of the offence: there's a massive range of offending with s.8 Theft Act '68 that can merit different sentences that a crude comparison is not capable of accommodating.

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  • 'For too long now, our efforts to boost the prison population have excluded white people, but no more! Our long term economic plan is to ensure that 50% of school leavers have a place in our prisons, irrespective of whether they are indigenous white people, or a bunch of immigrants.'

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  • Yes I see. Because of course BLACK people could not possibly be indigenous to the land that even the BRITISH MUSEUM CONFIRMS as FACT, they (the black people) occupied FIRST.

    Less talk and more research please.

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  • Well lets hope that David Lammy's review is truly dispassionate and objective! What is it about Mr Lammy that No.10 thinks best qualifies him for the job? Will the review look at cultural attitudes within the black communities, including the attitude to work, education and authority together with the propensity, as a % of population, for gun, knife and drug crime within those communities?
    It is a very complex issue which as usual has been reduced to a sound bite. I just hope that the review will not be conducted in the same narrow, insular and simplistic way that the announcement suggests.
    To me it looks suspiciously like No.10 trying to come up with an idea to balance the justified decision not to throw open the doors to all the migrants in creation as the BBC et al would have us do, and to deflect accusations of being unsympathetic to non-whites.
    I think Mr Lammy has been asked to square the circle. Lets see if he can do it. I have my doubts.

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  • I think they should ask the esteemed Rhodes Scholar, Ntokozo Qwabe, to conduct this review on a fair and balanced basis...

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  • Anonymous 4:07,

    Do you have anything to corroborate your rather odd hypothesis concerning the BBC's view on immigration policy? Do the BBC even have an immigration policy?

    Although you acknowledge the complexity of the issues, you let yourself down somewhat by allowing the mask to slip, and to reveal that your views may be somewhat less nuanced and complex.

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  • Surely the more blacks that do something bad enough to go to prison which is a miracle in itself the more the figures will bear this out. Do we need to send more whites to prison to balance it up even if they are lesser crimes. Will this not upset the white population unfairly and cause a little resentment.

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  • Roger,

    What is being suggested is that a bias against ethnic minority defendants exists in sentencing. If that is shown to be the case, what makes you think that the solution to the problem would be to "send more whites to prison" as opposed to - ooh, I don't know - removing the bias?

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  • This not only involves the criminal justice system. bias and prejudice is also very evidence in a lots of 'county courts and high courts cases especially concerning properties, high value money claims. It appears, that it is only a select number of Judges from a particular background dominates the 'Chancery Divisions' at the High Court and the 'County Court at Central. They expected big cases to be handled by their privileged firms, if this not so, any case brought by a 'firm' outside of this privileged few, who share a certain cultural identity with this Judges is 'doomed to fail' with financial consequences. My believe that 'courts are to dispense justice is after-all misplaced. The inquiry should cover outcome of civil cases involving ethnic minorities litigants and law firms.

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  • How could you prove a bias, there are no two identical cases with identical witnesses so its impossible unless you are implying that people just dont want to put away white people which is ridiculous and would be a bit insulting to all concerned. I dont know many people who would want to see a paedophile given a lenient sentence if he was white but send a black person down for a long stretch.

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