A new report from a leading equality watchdog has cited fresh evidence suggesting that the criminal justice system is institutionally racist.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission’s report, Healing a divided Britain, states that black and mixed ethnicity defendants are more likely to be remanded in custody than white defendants.
Black people in England and Wales are less confident that the criminal justice system respects the rights of those accused of an offence and treats them fairly.
A foreword to the report by commission chair David Isaac (pictured) states: ‘The evidence demonstrates inequalities experienced by ethnic minority communities across many areas of life in modern Britain, including education, employment and the criminal justice system. Poorer white communities also face continuing disadvantage.
‘The persistent nature of these issues points to prior existence of structural injustice and discrimination in our society.’
Isaac said it was vital that the UK government established a coordinated and comprehensive race strategy, with clear accountability and governance.
The London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, which welcomed the report, told a government-sponsored review that the criminal justice system is replete with examples of ‘everyday’ institutional racism.
Tackling institutional racism in criminal justice ‘demands a commitment, resources and new priorities for government and all stakeholders’, the association said today.
Barrister Tunde Okewale, of London-based Doughty Street Chambers, told the Gazette that tackling issues in the criminal justice system - also encompassing the police - required a holistic approach.
Okewale, who is the founder of charity Urban Lawyers, said ‘positive engagement’ is required at a community level with institutions that enforce the law.
‘That can take shape in terms of people becoming magistrates and police officers, whether voluntary or not,’ he added.
Okewale said many institutions were created in different social and economic times, where certain views acceptable then are not acceptable now.
The commission’s report also states that immigration detainees face a range of barriers in accessing legal support.
‘Poor communication by legal advice-provider firms after initial appointments leaves detainees unsure of whether or not they have a legal adviser,’ it adds.
‘Longer-term detainees with arguably the greatest need for legal advice are commonly left without this due to contradictory elements in current legal aid contracts.’
The report notes that the government’s legal aid reforms, introduced three years ago, have had a particularly adverse impact on access to justice for people from ethnic minorities.
Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon commended the commission ’for this important piece of work’.
She added: ’Everyone must be equal before the law. This report raises serious concerns, which the government needs to consider and respond to as a matter of urgency.
’Fundamental rights to a fair trial, availability of representation and access to justice are essential for those most at risk. Race inequality goes beyond the processes and procedures of the criminal justice system.’