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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Judicial diversity 'step change' needed to ensure fair treatment of BAME defendants

Judicial diversity 'step change' needed to ensure fair treatment of BAME defendants


Lammy report recommends targets for the appointment of minority ethnic judges

Labour MP David Lammy has called for “a step change” in the diversity of the magistracy and judiciary, urging the government to set a national target to achieve fair representation by 2025.

The recommendation is one of 35 made in a 108-page review published today (8 September) of the treatment of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals in the criminal justice system.

In a separate recommendation, the report suggests a single organisation such as the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) be given responsibility for delivering the new target.

The Lammy Review stopped short of proposing a target but recommended that once agreed the government should report biennially to parliament on progress.

“To build trust and respect for the rule of law, there must be a step change in the diversity of the magistracy and especially the judiciary,” the review argued.

“Until this is achieved, there will continue to be a pervasive sense of ‘them and us’ among BAME defendants”.

The review claims to have broken “new ground on race and criminal justice” in the UK by scrutinising data from across the criminal justice system (CJS), although it highlighted significant gaps in the data available from magistrate’s courts.

It found that BAME overrepresentation in the CJS costs the taxpayer at least £309m each year.

While the proportion of BAME young offenders in custody rose from 25 per cent to 41 per cent between 2006 and 2016, despite the number of youth offenders overall falling to record lows.

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. The same increase was recorded in the proportion of BAME young people reoffending over the same period.

Hodge Jones & Allen civil liberties solicitor Joanna Bennett welcomed the proposals, saying they had the potential to lead to improvement.

However, she flagged “the notion that the youth justice system is a success story” and “tackling the trust deficit” as two fundamental issues on which the review does not go far enough.

The Lammy Review was commissioned by former Prime Minister David Cameron in January 2016 in response to growing concern over the overrepresentation of BAME individuals in the criminal justice system.

In April 2016 the chair of the Society of Black Lawyers Peter Herbert OBE called for urgent meetings with BAME judges and magistrates as part of the review.

Herbert, a barrister and part-time judge, has regularly spoken out about the institutional racism he perceives to be present within the criminal justice system.

Black Solicitors Network director Cordella Bart-Stewart told Solicitors Journal the introduction of diversity targets was overdue. She highlighted in particular the importance of boosting diversity in the magistracy.

“Even now, in magistrates’ courts you could count the number of BAME magistrates on one or two hands,” she said. “Despite the fact that it is where most BAME individuals interface with the judiciary”.

Image: Rt Hon David Lammy MP speaking at the launch of his report Taking Its Toll at the Policy Exchange in 2015 | Creative Commons

Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, reporter