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Barrister calls for urgent meetings on judicial discrimination and bias

Government leading review into over-representation of BAME groups in criminal justice system

28 April 2016

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The chair of the Society of Black Lawyers (SBL) has called for urgent meetings with Black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) judges and magistrates to tackle the issue of judicial discrimination and bias.

In a letter to David Lammy MP, who is leading an independent review into over-representation of BAME groups in the criminal justice system, Peter Herbert OBE told of the organisation's fear over the treatment of its members and communities.

Herbert has asked for meetings to be conducted under the Chatham House Rules to ensure complete confidentiality, given the reluctance of members to share their thoughts and experiences.

The barrister anticipates that all BAME legal groups and other such groups will have an opportunity to express a view and put forward a joint position on solutions to the problem.

In January, the prime minister, David Cameron, announced that Lammy would run the investigation into why black people are more likely to be handed a custodial sentence compared to their white counterparts.

The evidence-based review will look at the way the criminal justice system deals with young people and adults from BAME backgrounds while addressing issues arising from the Crown Prosecution Service, including the court system, prisons, and young offender institutions.

As of March 2016, 26 per cent of the prison population - 21,879 people - were from a minority ethnic group. Black prisoners accounted for 12 per cent, or 10,459, of all inmates and just under half of all ethnic minority prisoners.

Last year, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, said a more diverse judiciary would increase public confidence in the judicial system as he denounced a failure to attract enough people from BAME communities. Lady Hale, the deputy president of the Supreme Court echoed his views and called for the UK's highest court to appoint justices with a 'wider range of experience'.

Speaking at the University of Birmingham last November, the baroness said that 15 lawyers sworn in as lords of appeal or justices of the Supreme Court have been white men, with the majority enjoying privileged educations and careers.

Furthermore, despite a rise in the number of BAME applicants for promotion to Queen's Counsel in 2015/16, only nine out of 32 applicants were successful. Only ten were elected from a pool of 24 the year before.

However, the number of BAME groups among practising solicitors in 2015 stood at 15.5 per cent, more than doubling since 2000, according to the Law Society's annual statistics report.

The call for evidence has offered the public the opportunity to contribute to the review. Lammy is expected to report on the findings and submit the findings to the Ministry of Justice by spring 2017.

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