Press release

Review of racial bias and BAME representation in criminal justice system announced

The Prime Minister has asked David Lammy MP to investigate evidence of possible bias against black defendants and other ethnic minorities.

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  • PM: We need to ask difficult questions about whether the system treats people differently based on race
  • charges, courts, prisons and rehabilitation to be scrutinised
  • David Lammy to lead the review and report back in spring 2017

Today the Prime Minister has asked David Lammy MP to lead a review of the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales to investigate evidence of possible bias against black defendants and other ethnic minorities.

With significant overrepresentation of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) individuals in the criminal justice system, the review will consider their treatment and outcomes to identify and help tackle potential bias or prejudice.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:

If you’re black, you’re more likely to be in a prison cell than studying at a top university. And if you’re black, it seems you’re more likely to be sentenced to custody for a crime than if you’re white. We should investigate why this is and how we can end this possible discrimination.

That’s why I have asked David Lammy MP to lead a review of the over-representation of defendants from black and ethnic minority backgrounds in the criminal justice system. And this will include examining possible sentencing and prosecutorial disparity.

The Rt Hon David Lammy MP said:

I’ve been working in this area for almost 2 decades and am very pleased to accept the Prime Minister’s invitation to lead this comprehensive, independent review across our criminal justice system.

With over a quarter of the prison population coming from a BAME background the urgency here is clear.

I look forward to leading a team that will evaluate what works in the UK, draw on lessons from abroad and listen to a broad range of voices from the justice system and our BAME communities.

At present, BAME individuals currently make up over a quarter of prisoners – compared to 14% of the wider population of England and Wales.

Latest figures also show that BAME people make up a disproportionate amount of Crown Court defendants (24%), and those who are found guilty are more likely to receive custodial sentences than white offenders (61% compared to 56%).

The review will address issues arising from the point of arrest onwards, including through the court system, in prisons and during rehabilitation in the wider community, in order to identify areas for reform and examples of good practice from the UK and beyond.

Reporting back in spring 2017, David Lammy has been asked for recommendations to ultimately reduce the proportion of BAME individuals in the criminal justice system and make sure that all suspects and offenders are treated equally, whatever their ethnicity.

Commenting on the review the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, said:

An effective justice system depends on procedural fairness. Equality of treatment at every stage in the criminal justice process is essential. I am very pleased that David, a politician whose intellectual honesty I have long admired, and who is not afraid to confront uncomfortable truths, is pursuing this important work.

Notes to editors

David Lammy will be supported by a secretariat from the Ministry of Justice and a panel of expert advisers. They will meet regularly and are expected to submit a final report to ministers by spring 2017.

David Lammy is MP for Tottenham and has served as chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Race and Community since 2010. A former Minister of State, he qualified as a barrister in 1995. Lammy received cross-party praise for his work on the 2011 London Riots and authored the book ‘Out of the Ashes: Britain after the Riots in 2011’.

Published 31 January 2016