Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given on Tuesday 30 June in the House of Commons.
“Racism is an abomination. It is morally and intellectually bankrupt, and it strikes at the foundations of a fair and just society. It is particularly corrosive when found within the criminal justice system, because in that context the stakes are particularly high—guilt or innocence; freedom or incarceration.
That is why the Government, back in 2017, commissioned the Lammy review into the treatment of and outcomes for black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system. Although it was an independent review, it was heavily backed by government resources. A team of six, headed by a senior civil servant, were devoted to the review, and it took evidence from across the world, with fact-finding trips as far away as the United States and New Zealand. We are profoundly grateful to the right honourable Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for the constructive and consensual way in which he led the review, and for the valuable 35 recommendations it produced. It is a good report and it has made a big difference.
Not uncommonly when reviews are commissioned, it was clear to Government that not every last recommendation could or indeed should be implemented precisely as requested. The Government made that clear, and they did so openly and publicly in their December 2017 response. Instead of flatly rejecting a large number of the recommendations, the Government were mindful of the importance of progressing the policy intent that lay behind them. That is why the Government undertook to take them forward to the fullest extent possible. They repeated that stance in the further lengthy progress updates they published in 2018 and most recently earlier this year, with the latest one running to more than 80 pages. The position now is that 16 recommendations have been completed, two have been rejected and 17 are in progress. Of those 17 in progress, 11 will be completed within 12 months and six thereafter.
Let me close by saying that enormous progress has been made, particularly in respect of the functioning and fairness of prisons. By way of one example, recommendation 3, which recommended the publication of datasets held on ethnicity, has been complied with, including in respect of home detention, curfew, release on temporary licence and prisons. All that data is set out in the official GOV.UK updates on the ‘Ethnicity facts and figures’ website, which is, by the way, arguably one of the most transparent sets of Government data in this field anywhere in the world. As a result, data on staff and prisoner ethnicity is significantly better than it used to be, allowing a spotlight to be more easily shone on disparities and action taken.
We have gone further, too, making progress in areas such as setting up the Race and Ethnicity Board to hold key partners across the criminal justice system responsible for improvement in their respective areas. Of course there is more to do, and I hope we can continue the constructive dialogue in taking forward the recommendations of this excellent report. I know things are different now. The consensual has necessarily, because of the right honourable gentleman’s elevation, given way to a more adversarial approach. That is understandable, but great progress has been made. With common purpose and focus, we can finish the job.”
My Lords, the Minister in the other place spoke about the progress the Government had made in implementing the recommendations of the Lammy review. However, my right honourable friend David Lammy spoke of a lack of trust, which is exacerbated when the Government claim to have implemented some of his recommendations when in fact they have not been implemented. Does the Minister agree that the outcomes of the report matter more than the outputs of the recommendations, and that the outcomes are getting worse, with 51% of children imprisoned now from BAME backgrounds, which is an increase from when David Lammy completed his review? Also, the proportion of stop and searches on BAME young people has increased since the report was published. Does the Minister agree that if the Government aim to build trust in the criminal justice system by the BAME community they need to start by being honest and straightforward about the recommendations that they have implemented from the Lammy review?
My Lords, we responded to the Lammy review by publishing in December 2017 our undertakings at implementation. Where a recommendation could not be implemented in full or as set out in the review, alternative approaches have been sought to achieve the same aim. We were clear then as to how we intended to proceed with implementation and we have been consistent and open in reporting against the actions we committed to take in a report in 2018, and more recently in a report of February 2020. We keep under review the report’s aims and make progress on a wide range of areas—indeed, in some areas beyond the Lammy recommendations. But I accept that there is a great deal more to do.
My Lords, the Minister in the other place suggested that police stop and search has increased from 25% to 40% BME over five years because the police are taking action against knife crime. However, 60% of all stop and searches carried out by the police are for drugs and only 13% for weapons. The Lammy report requires agencies to explain or change. The explanation given for you being almost nine times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police if you are black than if you are white does not hold water. When will the Government require the police to change?
Clearly, these issues are under continuous review, but we have a particular concern over knife crime and we are bringing forward legislation on serious violence that will oblige responsible bodies in local areas to create a comprehensive plan tailored to their area. Stop and search is just one approach and we expect plans to be drawn up on a wider crime reduction basis.
My Lords, in 2000, Zahid Mubarek was murdered by a known racist psychopath in HMYOI Feltham. The case was eventually judicially reviewed by Mr Justice Keith. If more of his 78 recommendations for improving the treatment of BAME prisoners had been implemented, the Lammy review might not have been necessary. Can the noble and learned Lord please tell the House why the Ministry of Justice has been so dilatory in tackling known BAME issues?
My Lords, I do not accept that the MoJ has been dilatory in this respect. As the noble Lord’s question implicitly acknowledges, the Lammy review was necessary. We are still taking forward the recommendation on prisons and prisoners, in particular the position of BAME prisoners. Indeed, that is also reflected in the steps we have taken in recruitment.
My Lords, one of the important ideas found in the Lammy report is the use of relative rate index analysis, which provides important data on the way decisions at various points of the criminal justice system take place. This is the sort of tool we will need if we are to address this deeply embedded problem. Will the noble and learned Lord tell the House whether this relative rate index analysis has been a repeated and whether the lessons are being implemented?
My Lords, the CPS in particular is fully committed to ensuring that its decisions are free from racial bias. In that context, it is currently investigating a limited number of offences where review showed evidence of disproportionality in charging. It continues with such quality assurance decisions to check for racial bias. However, there are considerable practical difficulties in pursuing this and the CPS has to act on material passed to it by the police. This has to be undertaken across the entire criminal justice system.
When David Lammy was preparing his review, I held a meeting with him because he had identified within the BAME prison population a significant number of prisoners on the autism spectrum. Can my noble and learned friend tell me, particularly in respect of the functioning and fairness of prisons, how this group of people is being supported?
My Lords, clearly, support is given to those suffering mental health issues. Unfortunately, that reflects a large proportion of the prison population. I cannot give identified observations or information about the BAME community, as distinct from the prison community as a whole, regarding mental health, but I am confident that its members receive similar and suitable treatment.
My Lords, we have heard ample reference to the fact that a number of aspects of the way racial minorities are treated in the justice system has simply got worse since the Lammy report, which is difficult to square with the assurance given by the Minister that so much is being done. Let me quote someone from the Government Benches: Mr Sajid Javid argues that it is time to shine a light on injustice, but that that is not enough. He says:
“We need an action plan … The Racial Disparity Audit found the data. The commission must deliver the solutions.”
The Runnymede Trust added that the Government are “knee-deep in evidence”. Can the Minister give us the assurance that a sense of urgency is being injected into this whole process? We have heard the same allegations over and over again since Scarman in 1981.
My Lords, we are committed to improving the collection and publication of data, and to using the data to identify and tackle disparities across the criminal justice system. We have been working very closely with the Race Disparity Unit since its formation in 2016, and we continue to add and update metrics on the ethnicity facts and figures website as part of our commitment to transparency.
My Lords, 41% of children in prisons are from the BAME community, and a large number of them are Muslims. About 15% of prisoners are Muslims, and in London, the figure is 27%. Some of those Muslims have been victimised by the staff. The custodial sentences imposed on those from BAME communities can be up to 10 years longer than those applied to white people—several lawyers have said this to me. There is an appalling lack of diversity in our judiciary, from the magistrates’ courts to the Supreme Court. Only 7% of judges are from BAME communities, and the figure for magistrates is 12%. Stop and search in BAME communities has risen by 69% for the last five years. I have been stopped by police for allegedly using a phone, which was not so. A sergeant then turned up and said that if there was any difference of opinion between me and his officer, he would believe the officer. I was appalled by the closing of ranks. I believe that I was picked upon because I was driving a Bentley coupé with a personalised number plate. Can the Minister comment on my points?
My Lords, we are of course concerned about ensuring visible diversity across the entire justice system. That is particularly challenging in the judiciary and magistracy, and we have introduced an education programme for those from backgrounds not properly represented to undertake training in order that they can apply. Further across the criminal justice system, I note that we have made progress. For example, with the Parole Board, there was grave underrepresentation of BAME members, but we reported in February this year that 53 independent members would join the board, 48% of whom are from a BAME background.