The criminal justice system is replete with examples of ‘everyday’ institutional racism, a practitioners’ group has claimed in a hard-hitting response to a government-sponsored review of possible racial bias.
Labour MP and barrister David Lammy (pictured) is currently investigating evidence of possible discrimination against black defendants and other ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system.
Pulling no punches in its response to a call for evidence, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association began with the proposition ‘at once both simple and complex, that people of colour live at a disadvantage within a culture that is institutionally racist’.
Citing statistics highlighting the make-up of the judiciary, the association said there appears to be ‘very little erosion of this white hegemony’.
‘If you are a black defendant, especially in the Crown court (and certainly should you reach the Court of Appeal), you can expect white judges, mostly men and often still an all-white courtroom.’
Role reversal was a useful exercise, the association suggested.
‘Imagine if you are white appearing in an all-black courtroom where you believe you have been harshly treated. Later you might read of higher sentences for white people; that white deaths in custody never result in any prosecution.
‘That white youths are disproportionately stopped and searched. You may imagine a lack of equality in the criminal justice processes.’
The association said courts adopted a ‘position’ of colour blindness, yet black defendants entered the system more frequently and were disproportionately represented in prisons.
Calling for training, greater diversity and public recognition within sentencing guidelines that institutional racism exists, the association asked whether recognition of institutional racism could become a part of criminal justice system process and discourse to prevent unfair practices.
There was a ‘powerful economic and process case’ for re-examining the pre-charge detention period, it added. ‘There are no statistics we are aware of but we suspect that on average non-white people are detained longer,’ the group said.
The association concluded that statistics ‘as far as they go highlight over-representation’ but ’it is our everyday experience that the criminal justice system is replete with examples of IR [institutional racism] selection and prosecution of defendants’.
The Lammy review is an important step, the association added, ‘but it is our view that real resources need to be devoted to statistical analysis and a review of rights… That concrete steps need to be taken to address diversity throughout the criminal justice system, and education and training re IR are priorities, and IR should be addressed through sentencing guidelines’.
Interim findings from Lammy’s review are expected to be published in the autumn. Recommendations will be made in early 2017.