Lammy review exposes deep racism in Justice System


Even with its interim findings, David Lammy’s ground breaking review into racism within the Criminal Justice System has exposed levels of racial bias throughout the system that leave many shocked but not all together surprised. Above all Black men and women continue to be sentenced much higher than white men and women for exactly the  same crime.

Lammy’s analysis breaks new ground to help with our understanding of race and the Criminal Justice by establishing what impact each stage of the system has on the disproportionate representation and outcomes of various ethnic communities. The interim report doesn't set to make concrete conclusions.

The good news in the report is slight, whilst the bad news is alarming.

First the better news:

The CPS charging decisions were seen as being fairly proportionate for BME communities in comparison to the white people being charged. These early findings also demonstrate that the jury system seems relatively fair to all ethnic communities. But these were the only two areas in which BME communities were treated equitable within the CJS.

Some of the big headlines in the report that should concern us all are:

  • 41% of youth prisoners are from minorities backgrounds, compared with 25% ten years ago, despite prisoner numbers falling by some 66% in that time;

  • BME defendants are more likely than their white counterparts to be tried at Crown Court – with young black men around 56% more likely than their white counterparts;

  • BME men were 16% more likely than white men to be remanded in custody;

  • BME men were 52% percent more likely than white men to plead ‘not guilty’ at crown court;

  • In prisons, BME males are almost five times more likely to be housed in high security for public order offences than white men, and

  • Mixed ethnic men and women were more likely than white men and women to have adjudications for breaching prison discipline brought against them – but less likely to have those adjudications proven when reviewed.

  • The number of Muslim prisoners has almost doubled in the last decade.

Reporting on the findings David Lammy said:

"These emerging findings raise difficult questions about whether ethnic minority communities are getting a fair deal in our justice system.”

Other commentators were more forthright in the condemnation of the Criminal Justice System.

Black Barrister and District Judge Peter Herbert stated:

"This interim report tells us much we knew already and the language used fails to properly label the CJS as institutionally racist. This was plainly evident in 1991 so as the position is significantly worse it is of concern that we are again told we require more research. It is disappointing to read that the initial findings raise only “difficult questions” as to why BAME communities are not getting a “fair deal”. Black professionals working in the CJS “fully understand” why black defendants receive longer custodial sentences than their white counterparts….racism, bias and poverty are the drivers of inequality.

What is critical is that the report highlights, yet again the fundamental racism disparities in the dispensation. administration and dissemination of justice.”

Ismet Rawat, President, of the Association of Muslim Lawyers said:

"17 years after McPherson, not only has nothing improved, it has worsened. That is wholly unacceptable. Any attempt to seriously address any form of racial and religious bias within the criminal justice, cannot even begin to scratch the surface unless funded on an appropriate level.”

And Lee Jasper, former Policing Director for London and former Equalities lead for the London Criminal Justice Board (2000-2008) said:

"The police are not included in the scope of the Lammy Review – Policing is one of the key gateways leading to BAME over-representation in the CJS. Discrimination and disproportionate treatment by and within the police is endemic and widely accepted as being so. MOJ figures themselves demonstrate that Black or Asian people are far more likely to be subject to stop and search than white people. Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, even allows a police officer to stop and search a person in a designated area without any suspicion.”

And Finally Viv Ahmun of Blaksox stated:

"In addition to the issues highlighted in Lammy’s interim report, there are also issues to address regarding sentencing, progression within the CJS, access to justice and the fact not enough BAME individuals, are being drawn from a sufficiently talented and experienced pool to ensure that we have a judiciary that is representative of the society our judiciary purports to represent.”

This interim report will be an important building block in mapping out the huge challenge that the Theresa May government has in regards to tackling the deep and structural race inequalities that persist in the UK. For a society that has more than 40% of those incarcerated from BME communities this alone  should sound the most urgent alarm bells, not least because at almost every juncture of the Criminal Justice system Black men and women face the most severe race penalties.

In the months ahead all those involved working with BME communities particularly youths must engage with this review to ensure that in its final report we have the most detailed data and insightful solutions to put an end to what some have described as a British Criminal Justice Jim Crow system.

Simon Woolley