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Criminal Justice System: Diversity

Volume 777: debated on Thursday 15 December 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the review by David Lammy MP of racial bias and BAME representation in the criminal justice system.

My Lords, the Government welcome the Lammy review’s emerging findings and continue to support it. David Lammy has indicated a number of areas he wants to examine in more detail in the second phase of the review. We look forward to responding to the final report, due in the summer of 2017.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. I want to give the House some early figures that we already know. The total number of young people held in secure institutions has halved since 2005, which is good. However, over the past 10 years, the number of young black prisoners has risen by 67% and the number of young Asian prisoners by 75%, meaning that one in four prisoners is black or Asian. In contrast, the number of white detainees has dropped from 75% to 60%. Does the Minister agree that these are shocking figures and that we need a vital step change in our policies for and treatment of young black people in the criminal justice system?

There is no doubt that a series of complex reasons lie behind the figures that the noble Lord referred to and that custody rates among black, Asian and minority-ethnic males are materially higher than they are in respect of white males. At present and so far in his review, David Lammy has provided research findings rather than final conclusions. He has of course said that he is concerned by those findings but that the issue needs to be explored further before firm conclusions can be drawn.

My Lords, the Lammy review raises a number of questions. Will the Government continue after the review to monitor disproportionate outcomes in the criminal justice system using the relative rate index method of analysis pioneered in the UK in the Lammy review? Secondly, does not the finding that black offenders are disproportionately likely to receive custodial sentences highlight the urgent need for greater ethnic diversity among the judiciary, which the Lammy review is now also to consider?

We are of course committed to greater diversity within the judiciary, and are endeavouring to take that forward. With regard to the particular statistics that the noble Lord referred to, there are a variety of complex reasons why these figures have emerged. For example, the rate at which black, Asian and minority-ethnic men plead not guilty at Crown Court and go to trial is distinct from those who plead at an earlier stage and perhaps receive a lesser sentence. The Government are not committed to any particular means of analysing the relevant statistics at this time.

My Lords, in addition to the measures that the Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, referred to, will the Government look at increasing the number of prison officers, and magistrates appointed at the lower levels, who are recruited from BAME communities to participate in the administration of justice?

We are clearly concerned that there should be a suitable element of diversity among magistrates and the other parts of the judiciary, and are committed to that. As the noble Lord will be aware, we are also committed to materially increasing the number of prison officers within our estate over the forthcoming year. A figure of 2,500 has already been referred to. That recruitment process will no doubt seek to engage with the issue of ethnic diversity.

Will the Minister look at the number of black young people who are in care or have been in care who drift into the criminal justice system without any of the necessary support to prevent that happening?

We are extremely concerned about the youth offender institutions and are taking forward the proposals noted by Charlie Taylor’s review with regard to introducing further education and training into that regime.

It is not just in the justice system that black and minority-ethnic people are discriminated against. Is the Minister aware that, at a recent meeting of a Select Committee, the chairman of the Charity Commission had to admit that there are no black and ethnic-minority people on the Charity Commission, which is a disgrace? On top of that, there are no members from the whole of the north of England. The Charity Commission is an elite body run by Mr Shawcross and his cronies and something ought to be done about it. Will he have a word with his colleagues to see what can be done?

I am not in a position to comment on the constitution of the Charity Commission and I am obliged for the noble Lord’s suggestion that I should have a look at it. Clearly, I will. Beyond that, I am not able to comment.

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord not agree that the disproportionate number of black and minority-ethnic young people stopped and searched by the police is a contributory factor to higher rates of conviction and incarceration?