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Probe to examine potential racial bias in criminal justice

3rd Feb 2016

Legal reform groups have welcomed a government-sponsored review of possible racial bias in the criminal justice system.

The Prime Minister announced that Labour MP and barrister David Lammy will be investigating evidence of possible bias against black defendants and other ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system.

The cross-departmental announcement states that BAME individuals make up nearly a quarter of Crown court defendants, and those who are found guilty are more likely to receive custodial sentences than white offenders.

The Prime Minister said the review will include examining possible sentencing and prosecutorial “disparity”.

Justice secretary Michael Gove said an effective justice system “depends on procedural fairness” and that “Equality of treatment at every stage in the criminal justice process is essential.”

Director of the Centre for Justice Innovation Phil Bowen said that feeling treated with respect and even-handedness “is as important as outcomes”.

“Evidence shows that these perceptions of fairness have a major impact on people’s willingness to comply with the law,” he said. “But we know that many people in ethnic minority communities don’t feel that the system is fair.

He also added that “we trust the review will make recommendations that help increase the diversity of people working in our criminal justice system agencies and ensure that people from ethnic minority communities going through the system see it as neutral, respectful and fair.”

Greg Foxsmith, president of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, said advocates rarely encountered “overt racism” from judges and magistrates. However, he continued to say that “the statistics are stark and show that even in the years since the Macpherson report [in 1999], there remains unfairness within the justice system for people of different skin colour or ethnicity,” he added.

Foxsmith also stated that “For years we have acknowledged the problem of convert or subliminal discrimination. The challenge for Lammy and for all of us in the justice system is to find a way that actually tackles the problem, and ensures that justice is not just blind, but colour-blind, providing equality of outcome for all.”

Lammy will report back in spring 2017.