A new report by the Centre for Justice Innovation – published this morning – finds that widespread distrust among British-born Black, Asian and Minority ethnic (BAME) people towards our justice system is having a negative impact on the legitimacy of our criminal courts.
More than half (51%) of British born BAME people believe that the criminal justice system discriminates against particular groups and individuals compared to 35% of British-born white people. David Lammy MP, who is currently leading a government review of race and the criminal justice system has dubbed this a ‘trust deficit’, highlighting the need to understand and address the effects in criminal courts.
The report indicates that the origins of this trust deficit are, in part, based on significant racial disparities at court:
- Black men, when charged, are 40% more likely than similar white defendants to go to Crown Court. Once there, they are 12 % more likely to be given a prison sentence than their white counterparts.
- Following drug offence charges, black and Asian men are significantly more likely than white defendants to go to Crown Court and are more likely to get a prison sentence. For every 100 white men imprisoned for a drug offence, 141 black men are imprisoned.
- Defendants from BAME backgrounds are more likely to feel the criminal court process has been unfair to them. A significant minority believe this is because of their ethnicity.
An apparent consequence of this ‘trust deficit’ is that BAME defendants are less likely to plead guilty. This leads to more jury trials and, in cases where BAME defendants are found guilty, longer prison sentences. Moreover, evidence shows that lower levels of trust in the decisions of the court are likely to increase the chances that BAME offenders go on to commit more crimes.
In order to build trust in courts and criminal courts system, the report calls for:
- Making the court process clearer and more understandable for all, including people from BAME communities;
- Putting perceptions of fairness and trust at the centre of current court reforms, including reviewing online and virtual courts to ensure they enhance all defendants’ perceptions of fairness;
- Rooting courts back into their local communities through the adoption of pop-up courts in accessible public buildings such as libraries.
Phil Bowen, report author and Director of the Centre for Justice Innovation said,
‘We all want our courts to treat people equally, regardless of their background or colour of their skin. A ‘them and us’ perception of our courts has to be addressed – otherwise it spells trouble for the future.
Building trust in the justice system is everyone’s responsibility. Our report outlines practical measures which evidence shows would improve trust and legitimacy for everyone. And ultimately improve the courts’ ability to reduce reoffending. For instance, clearer, jargon-free communication at every step of the court process and new pop-up courts to root courts in the heart of their communities. No silver bullet but these measures go towards addressing a deep-seated issue for the good of the justice system and the good of all of us in society.’
At 18 years old, Suleman was sentenced to two years in prison at Crown Court;
‘It was me against them. Coming from an Asian Muslim background, I didn’t see anyone with a common background. My mistrust started with the police. I didn’t trust anyone. As for judges and magistrates, they were the last people I trusted – elderly, white English people and that’s not what I see in society outside. They don’t understand what I’ve gone through or my culture. They don’t take into account anything you say, no common ground at all.
We need more diversity of staff, including judges and better training for professionals. That could improve the system. The language in courts needs to be made easier as well to make them less confusing. And I feel strongly if people like me who know firsthand what it’s like are consulted that could improve the courts and restore trust in them.’
Notes to Editor:
- Building Trust, How our Courts can improve the criminal court experience for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic defendants – Link to report pdf
- Centre for Justice Innovation is a UK justice research and development charity. Committed to building a justice system that holds people accountable, that is fair and feels fair, and which seeks to address the underlying problems of offenders. As well as supporting practitioners in the field, we highlight promising new research and practice, working with policy makers to overcome barriers to change experienced by practitioners.
For more information:
Arsheen Qasim, Centre for Justice Innovation: 07918 831964 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Philippa Budgen – 07801 150 192 or Philippa@philippabudgen.com