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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

MoJ pledges to tackle racial disparity

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The Ministry of Justice has responded swiftly and with apparent sincerity to the challenge of rectifying the racial disparity highlighted by David Lammy.

Response to Lammy

It’s been difficult to be very positive about the Ministry of Justice over the last few years – the Department seems to change its minister at least once a year and its main responsibilities, the prison and probation services, are both in disarray.

So it’s a bit of a relief to find that, not only has the MoJ responded reasonably swiftly to the 35 key recommendations in the Lammy report, but also, on the whole, that there seems to be an honest commitment to make real change on the endemic racial disparity seen at every point in our justice system. You can find the full MoJ response here.

Commitment

The tone of David Lidington’s written statement to the House of Commons, the willingness to accept Lammy’s key principle that racial disparity must be “explained or changed” and the establishment of a new Race and Ethnicity Board of senior level officials, chaired at the level of Director General, promises real commitment. It was also reassuring to hear Mr Liddington be frank that the MoJ response was only “the very first step” in a change of attitude towards race disparity “that will touch on every part of the criminal justice system for years to come”.

Further evidence of the leadership which has been so rarely present in Petty France over recent years can be found in the fact that the MoJ has already published “ethnicity facts and figures” on four key areas in the justice system:

  • Policing;
  • Crime and reoffending;
  • Courts, sentencing and tribunals; and
  • Prison and custody incidents.

You can find this data here.

Key pledges

Some of the key pledges in the response were decisions to:

  • Collect wider datasets related to ethnicity for more accurate analysis
  • Publish more datasets so the public can see the reality
  • Review use of “gang” prosecutions for those who are victims and exploited by adults
  • Review modern slavery legislation to see how it could help with gang crime
  • Redact, where possible, identifying information to make “race-blind decisions”
  • Investigate better ways of explaining legal rights and options to build trust
  • Assess maturity of young offenders over 18
  • Recruit a more diverse workforce in prisons and help people move to more senior roles
  • Consider sealing criminal records
  • Trial deferred prosecutions – where offenders can avoid trial when admitting the offence – in London

Exceptions

One key recommendation in the Lammy Review the MoJ declined to accept was the target to make magistrates and judges representative of the general population. Currently ethnic minority groups make up 14% of the general population, but only 11% of magistrates and 7% of judges.

The Justice Secretary defended this decision by saying that it would take several years for BAME lawyers to have sufficient experience to be considered for a judge.

However, David Lammy took to Twitter to point out that change is long overdue:

Conclusion

Of course, we can only assess how genuine the MoJ’s commitment is when we see how prepared it is to act and remedy the many areas of racial disparity.

Other commentators are somewhat less positive than myself and point out, quite fairly, the lack of any key targets and dates for their attainment.

For my part, I am pleased that the MoJ has not dragged its feet and has at least made a public commitment to starting the process; we must wait and see whether real action will follow fine words.

Related posts you might like:

The MoJ updates its strategy

Refreshed single departmental plan has 4 stripped down objectives: Provide a prison and probation service that reforms offenders; Deliver a modern courts and justice system; Promote a global Britain and the rule of law; and Transform the department.

Read More »
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