The MP leading a review of racial bias and representation in the criminal justice system says judicial diversity will be one of the key aspects of his final recommendations.
David Lammy (pictured) told the Gazette that there is no problem with the supply line of black and minority ethnic (BAME) lawyers in the profession, so he wants to pin down why they do not progress to the bench.
The Labour MP, who was tasked with leading the review by former prime minister David Cameron in January, said the government and new PM Theresa May have both committed to making real changes that affect the way black and other ethnic minority defendants are treated.
The call for evidence closed six weeks ago, and Lammy is already minded to focus much of his report on the makeup of the judiciary, where 5% of members are from a BAME background.
‘It is 20 years since I qualified as a barrister and I see a generation of solicitors and barristers [who are BAME].
‘It is definitely the case there are some areas of criminal justice where there is a significant amount of ethnic minority lawyers. They are just not making their way to the judiciary. There are barriers [to applying] or they are not successful when they do apply.
‘Relative to other professions, we have in our country a bank of BAME lawyers. What we have not seen is progress to the bench. That is what I want to look at very closely.’
Lammy said initial feedback to the review has also focused on over-sentencing and the higher likelihood of ethnic minority defendants receiving a prison sentence.
Some evidence has suggested BAME defendants are more likely to plead not guilty and therefore face harsher sentences if they are convicted.
‘There are questions about the confidence in the system, pre-trial and some issues raised around legal advice post legal aid changes. There is a higher proportion of defendants than at any time who are choosing to pay privately for their own defence. That is a growing trend,’ added Lammy.
The Tottenham MP said his own experience of entering the profession as a young black barrister had been ‘awe-inspiring’ but he admitted he had on occasion been mistaken for a defendant when he entered a court.
He applied to study at Harvard after believing he might suffer prejudice trying to make his way as a lawyer in the UK.
‘It was definitely different to what I see more routinely now although there is progress to make in areas like family and crime.’
The report is due out by next summer and will reflect on more than 300 responses from groups and individuals in the criminal justice system.
Lammy said his recommendations will help allow communities to ‘take some ownership’ of the system and may use the experiences of community courts tested in New York and Texas.
Despite the change in leadership of the country and the Ministry of Justice, Lammy said he was confident he will have the backing of May and new justice secretary Liz Truss to initiate reform.
‘I would not be doing this if it was put together on the back of an envelope. I am pleased at the open way I have found the different parts of the criminal justice system responding.’