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Sophie Cameron

Features and Opinion Editor, Solicitors Journal

Crown Prosecution Service to research disproportionality in charging decisions

Crown Prosecution Service to research disproportionality in charging decisions


Study finds defendants of colour more likely to be charged than white people

A study commissioned by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has found that there is evidence of disproportionality in the outcomes of the legal decision making of the CPS. The research, carried out by the University of Leeds, has identified that defendants from minority ethnic backgrounds are “significantly more likely” to be charged for comparable offences than white British defendants.

The CPS announced the creation of an independent Disproportionality Advisory Group on 7 February, in light of the findings, in order to carry out further research to identify the factors causing the disproportionality in its charging decisions and find solutions to tackling the problem.

The study, which assessed almost 195,000 cases that resulted in charging decisions being made between January 2018 and December 2021, found evidence of disproportionality relating to ethnicity with statistically significant differences in the outcomes of CPS charging decisions when ethnicity was isolated as a variable. White British suspects had the lowest charge rate compared to all other ethnicities with 69.9 per cent of cases resulting in a charge. Defendants from mixed ethnic backgrounds were most likely to be charged, with 79.1 per cent of suspects charged. Black defendants had a charge rate of 76.2 per cent, and Asian defendants had a charge rate of 73.1 per cent.

Max Hill KC, Director of Public Prosecutions at the CPS, said: “A fair justice system is a vital part of any democratic society and the decisions we make at the CPS have a profound impact on suspects, defendants, victims and the wider public. Our decisions must be fair, consistent and transparent for justice to done. We undertook this research to ensure that in every case we uphold the highest standards of integrity. It is troubling that it has found evidence of unexplained disproportionality in the outcomes of our legal decision making. We cannot yet identify what is driving the disparities we have found, and therefore we must do further work as a matter of urgency. I am committed to taking whatever action is needed and am grateful for the scrutiny of our independent advisors as we prioritise this vital work.”

An independent review into the treatment of black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system in England and Wales was commissioned by the government in 2016. The Lammy Review, which was published in 2017, found widespread evidence of disproportionality in the criminal justice system. Following the review, the CPS committed to examining its activities more closely to ensure that defendants are treated fairly.