Requiring defendants to disclose their nationality at their first appearance before magistrates’ courts has undermined the perception of the fairness of the British justice system, a report by a not-for-profit specialist criminal firm reveals. Commons Legal is calling on the government to review the policy urgently or face legal action. An obligation to state nationality only on conviction would be less discriminatory, the report claims.
Nationality disclosure was introduced by Theresa May’s government in 2017 as part of its attempt to deport more foreign criminals. Commons Legal claims the policy has ‘racialised courtrooms’ and ‘polluted the sanctity of fair trial rights and perceptions of justice’.
Its report State of Innocence, seen by the Gazette, states that 90% of lawyers felt it has had a negative impact on the perception of fairness in the justice system. They said it created the impression among some defendants – particularly non-British nationals or those from ethnic minority backgrounds – that they might be discriminated against.
The report said the findings were ‘yet another blow to the integrity of our criminal justice system’ which should have equality before the law at its heart.
One barrister stated: ‘Immigration enforcement should not be outsourced to the criminal courts’.
The report was based on responses from 134 lawyers and court observers who witnessed 527 criminal hearings across 33 magistrates’ courts nationwide.