More than 18 months after David Lammy was asked by government to investigate potential racial bias in the criminal justice system, the Labour MP for Tottenham has produced a hard-hitting report. It contains several achievable suggestions on how to bridge the ‘chronic’ lack of trust felt by black, Asian and minority ethnic people caught up in the system. That defendants don’t even trust their legal aid lawyers shows just how bad that problem is.
Perhaps his most notable recommendation is for criminal justice agencies to ‘explain or reform’: in the first place, providing an evidence-based explanation for the apparent racial disparity. If they cannot provide such an empirical explanation, then they must introduce reforms (such as a choice of duty solicitor) to tackle that disparity without delay.
The government may have commissioned the review, but without political impetus Lammy’s recommendations will go no further. At press time we had still to hear from the lord chancellor, who has hitherto offered little hope that he is contemplating new thinking on legal aid. He reminded MPs on parliament’s first day back after the summer recess that last year’s £1.6bn legal aid spend amounted to a quarter of his department’s expenditure.
Let us hope Lammy does not struggle to find the ‘one final precondition for progress’ with which he concludes his report: leadership.