While the justice system remains dominated by white, middle-class people, young people from ethnic minorities will face an uphill struggle for fairness.
The Lammy Review took 18 months to reach its conclusions, and showed that the number of young offenders from black and minority ethnic groups rose from 25 per cent to 41 per cent between 2006 and 2016, despite the overall number of young offenders falling to record lows. Isn’t this an indication of bias?
Meanwhile, evidence shows the rate of black defendants pleading not guilty in Crown Courts in England and Wales between 2006 and 2014 was 41 per cent, compared to 31 per cent of white defendants. This means they lose the possibility of reduced sentences if found guilty, and it raises questions about trust in the system.
The review found that BAME defendants often pleaded “not guilty” and opted for trial in the Crown Court because they had more confidence in the fairness of juries than in the fairness of magistrates’ courts.
Mr Lammy, commenting, said: “The best way to ensure fair, equal treatment is to subject decision-making to scrutiny – helping identify and eliminate bias at source.”
That’s as may be, but even the government’s press release on the review seems disproportionately slanted towards treatment of people who are found guilty of crimes. Isn’t the issue whether guilty verdicts are returned unfairly?
Look at this: “The proportion of BAME young people offending for the first time rose from 11 per cent in 2006 to 19 per cent a decade later. There was an identical increase in the proportion of BAME young people reoffending over the same period.” Because they actually committed crimes, or because of unfairness in the system?
Or try this: “One finding was that for every 100 white women handed custodial sentences at Crown Courts for drug offences, 227 black women were sentenced to custody. For black men, this figure is 141 for every 100 white men.”
Disproportionality in the criminal justice system was said to cost the taxpayer at least £309 million each year.
The review contains 35 recommendations, including introducing assessments of a young offenders’ maturity, exploring how criminal records could be ‘sealed’, and allowing some prosecutions to be ‘deferred’. David Lammy also urges the justice system to take major steps to increase diversity and transparency.
Those are probably good ideas – as long as they reduce what seems an institutionalised belief that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to have committed crimes. Our justice system is supposed to believe people are innocent until proven guilty, after all.
Mr Lammy himself said: “My 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.”
It is – but will this review deliver that fairness?
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