A recent report published by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, titled “Healing a divided Britain”, has found that non-white defendants in criminal trials are more likely to be remanded in custody.
David Isaac, the chair of the commission, argued in the report’s foreword that the evidence revealed “inequalities experienced by ethnic minority communities” that included in “education, employment and the criminal justice system”.
Mr Isaac suggested that the “persistent” character of the issues indicated “structural injustice and discrimination” in British society.
According to the report, only 5.9% of judges, and 5.5% of police officers, are from an ethnic minority. A member of an ethnic minority is also five times more likely to be incarcerated than a white person.
Confidence in the system
The Ministry of Justice published data last year that found that Black ethnic minorities were three times more likely to be prosecuted and sentenced than white people.
The official Crime Survey of England and Wales found that, two years prior, Black people were less likely to report that they were confident that the justice system would respect their rights.
Other minorities reported feeling “unsafe” while incarcerated. 46% of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers in prison reportedly felt at risk, compared to 33% of the general population. This group were also more likely to report victimisation by both other prisoners and staff.
In support of the commission’s findings, the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, also told a recent Government review that the justice system is “institutionally racist”.
The association said:
“If you are a black defendant, especially in the Crown court (and certainly should you reach the Court of Appeal), you can expect white judges, mostly men and often still an all-white courtroom.”
Access to justice
The commission report also noted that the recent legal aid reforms have had a “particularly adverse” effect on the ability of people from ethnic minorities to access justice.
The authors of the commission’s report have argued for urgent and comprehensive action to be taken to improve the rights, access to justice, and inequalities of minorities across British society.
In February, ex-PM David Cameron announced that Labour MP and barrister David Lammy would be heading a report into racial bias in criminal justice. An interim report is due for publication in the Autumn.
The Lammy review is felt to be “an important step”, by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, but the association argues that “real resources” must be expended on a “review of rights”, adding that “concrete steps” need to be take to address diversity across the system, and with respect to sentencing guidelines.