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Youth Justice: Racial Disparity

Volume 685: debated on Tuesday 8 December 2020

What progress he has made on tackling racial disparity in the youth justice system since the publication of the Lammy review in September 2017. (909925)

What progress he has made on tackling racial disparity in the youth justice system since the publication of the Lammy review in September 2017. (909941)

What progress he has made on tackling racial disparity in the youth justice system since the publication of the Lammy review in September 2017. (909946)

We have taken important action across the review recommendations. For the three recommendations specific to youth, we have promoted parental and community involvement in referral order panels and evaluated an update of the Youth Justice Board’s ethnic disproportionality toolkit. Beyond that, we have now ended automatic disclosure of youth cautions on criminal records. We have put equalities plans in all young offenders institutions and are piloting the Chance to Change alternative to charge, which was one of the recommendations of the review. However, there is no quick fix and more work will continue to be done.

With fewer than half of the Lammy review’s recommendations having been enacted and with many others from many other reviews into deaths in custody still outstanding, what can the Secretary of State do to assure black, Asian and minority ethnic communities that the Government are not just dragging their feet on racial disparity in the justice system?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that is far from the case. Indeed, 16 recommendations have been completed. There are two recommendations that we did not take up, but of the 17 that are still in progress, we aim to complete 11 within six to 12 months. I am being told that the further six will take slightly longer. That is not good enough for me and I will be going back to my officials to make sure we make earlier progress. I can assure him that, as overall numbers go down in the youth estate, what concerns me is that we are still seeing a disproportionate number of BAME children being held in custody, even though the overall numbers are now dramatically fewer. There is clearly more work to be done on that front.

The Lammy review was published in 2017 and it said that racial inequality and unfairness runs rife throughout our country’s justice system. At that time, zero Supreme Court judges were black. That number is still zero. In fact, not a single Supreme Court judge is from a black, Asian and minority ethnic background. Why does the Secretary of State think that is and what are his Government doing to change it?

Like the hon. Lady, I want to see far more people from a diverse and BAME background in the senior judiciary. The truth is that the senior judiciary is often a product of the supply into the legal professions some 20 or more years ago, when we know things were not as promising when it comes to diversity as they are now at the Bar, in solicitors’ practices, or for legal executives and Government lawyers, for example. However, we cannot use that as an excuse, which is why I am working hard with the senior judiciary and the chair of the Judicial Appointments Commission, as part of the Judicial Diversity Forum. We are meeting again this week and in my convening role I am pushing all sides, the Bar Council and the Law Society, to come up with more plans and more engagement, so we can help and support BAME candidates ahead of any application processes to level that playing field.

In a 2020 update on progress against the Lammy review, the Secretary of State said:

“It is crucial, if everyone is to have confidence in our system, that the people working in it reflect the diversity of Britain today.”

Yet in written answers to my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Peter Kyle), the Ministry of Justice confirms that there are zero BAME staff working for the Youth Justice Board outside London. What is the Secretary of State going to do to make sure the system reflects the communities those people are serving?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I know the new chair of the Youth Justice Board, Keith Fraser, will be particularly concerned about that figure. I reassure the hon. Gentleman that in many other areas we are seeing BAME representation higher than the national average. For example, there is an extremely encouraging figure for the probation service. I will look at that particular issue and discuss it with the chair of the YJB, because clearly he feels strongly about BAME issues and he will want to take appropriate action to see what we can do to improve that.

In 2016, 22% of kids sentenced were black and minority ethnic. Now, it is 27%. Some 41% of youth prisoners were black and minority ethnic. Now, it is over half. The proportion of black and minority ethnic young people subject to the use of force in youth prisons has gone up from 41% to 48% since the Lammy review. This Government have been in power for 10 years. It has been two years since the Lammy review. It is not that not enough progress has been made; things are going backwards. Why should anybody have faith that this lot can sort it out?

With respect to the hon. Gentleman, he is just wrong about that—totally wrong. In the last 10 years, there has been a fall of 83% in the number of children receiving a caution or a sentence, and last year there was a fall of 19%. That means in actual numbers of lives and families, the number of children and BAME children affected is reducing. I accept the point about disproportionality—I acknowledged it earlier—but it is a calumny to say that the Government are inactive or uninterested in the issue. We have made incredible progress in 10 years. The child population in our young offender institutions or other institutions is now down to about 500. That is a generational low, and he should pay tribute to the Government for presiding over such dramatic change.