Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) defendants have so little faith in the criminal justice system that they do not even trust legal aid solicitors, according to a landmark review.
Labour MP David Lammy, who was commissioned by the government last year to lead the independent probe, said the disproportionate representation of BAME people among defendants has resulted in a ’chronic trust deficit’.
The report, published today, highlights a lack of trust in legal aid solicitors among both white and BAME offenders. ’Many questioned the motives of the legal aid solicitors, who were often viewed as representing “the system” rather than their clients’ interests. Offenders commonly believed that solicitors did not have the time or the capacity to advise them effectively in any case,’ the report states.
The Law Society today said that criminal defence solicitors are 'uniquely placed' to ensure BAME defendants are treated fairly.
Joe Egan, president, said: 'Criminal defence solicitors have a duty always to act in their client's best interests. We will look at what more we can do to ensure all defendants are aware that their solicitor is completely independent of the police or other criminal justice agencies, and that their efforts are entirely directed to achieving the best possible result for their client within the law and in the circumstances of the case.'
In his report, Lammy urges the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and the Legal Aid Agency to ’experiment with different approaches’ to explain legal rights and options to defendants. Such approaches could include giving people a choice of duty solicitors and earlier access to advice from barristers, Lammy suggests.
However, Robert Brown, a partner at London criminal defence firm Corker Binning, said such approaches are 'completely unachievable' due to the 'extreme' funding cuts currently being undertaken by the LAA.
Commenting on his 35 recommendations, Lammy said the review ’clearly shows BAME individuals still face bias - including overt discrimination - in parts of the justice system. It is only through delivering fairness, rebuilding trust and sharing responsibility that we will build the equal and just society so often spoken about’.
Justice secretary David Lidington said he was grateful to Lammy for the 'detailed and incisive review'. The government will 'look very carefully at his findings and recommendations before responding fully', he added.
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