A long-awaited government review led by David Lammy has condemned the “racial disparity” in the UK justice system, adding the problem is a “ticking timebomb”.
The Labour MP criticised “disproportionate” arrest rates, citing Black and Asian women as being twice as likely to be arrested as white people, with black men three times as likely.
The research also suggested courts were likely to be biased against BAME defendants, suggesting systematic problems.
“My judgment is that we have a significant problem in the criminal justice system itself,” writes Lammy in the Guardian. “The treatment of BAME young people shows this problem is getting worse.”
Young People are the Biggest Concern
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As well as citing an imbalance in the makeup of prison inmates, the review also has damning findings on youth justice, something Lammy says is his “biggest concern”.
It claims that 22,000 black and ethnic minority (BAME) youth offenders had their names added to the Police National Database over the last five years, barring them from careers “ranging from accountancy and financial services to plumbing, window cleaning and driving a taxi” due to criminal record checks.
The proportion of young BAME people offending for the first time rose from 11 percent to 19 percent between 2006 and 2016, while the number of BAME prisoners under 18 has risen from 25 percent to 41 percent.
Young BAME offenders are also “less likely to be recorded as having problems” such as learning difficulties or mental illness – something Lammy claims is “entrenching disproportionality”.
The System isn’t Consistent
Pointing to the justice system broadly, the review says there is a fundamental inequality in how people are tried at different levels – juries are said to “deliver equitable results, regardless of the ethnic make-up of the jury, or of the defendant in question”, while cases brought to magistrates had a significant rate of racial bias.
“Our justice system is built on the principle that the law will be applied impartiality,” the report continues, something which is in line with our right to a fair trial, something protected by the Human Rights Convention.
In an open letter to Theresa May though, Lammy said it is “clear” BAME people still suffer discrimination from the Crown Prosecution Service and calls for increased and more nuanced scrutiny at every level of the justice system – just as jurors “must justify their opinions to one another”.
Rebuilding trust is the first step
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The report makes 35 recommendations on re-balancing the justice system – including “deferred” prosecutions, in which a rehabilitation programme could be completed instead of a custodial sentence.
It focuses on three areas – improving trust in the system, taking steps to ensure fair treatment on all levels of the judiciary, and further action to ensure responsibility for its failings.
The MP stressed it was “not about letting offenders off – precisely the opposite. More enforcement must be focused on powerful adults, further up criminal hierarchies.”
He also called on the government to use modern slavery legislation to clamp down on the exploitation of young BAME people – who are 10 times as likely to be arrested for drug offences than a young white person.