Black people in England and Wales were three times more likely to be prosecuted and twice as likely to be murdered than white people, according to a recent report by Britain’s national equality body.
The study from the Equality and Human Rights Commission report (Healing a divided Britain) suggested that the criminal justice system treated ethnic minorities as second class citizens. The watchdog argued that persistent disparities in their over-representation revealed that structural injustices, discrimination and racism continued to be a part of our society.
Relative to the population, the rates of both prosecution and sentencing for black ethnic minorities in England and Wales were three times higher than for white people. The rate of incarceration for ethnic minorities was over five times that of white people. Ethnic minorities in police custody were significantly more likely to be physically restrained, and twice as likely to be stopped and searched.
The report suggested that lack of diversity within the criminal justice system was a contributing factor, with only a small proportion of judges coming from ethnic minority communities, and police forces lacking an ethnic minority representation that matched their local demographic.
The chair of the ECHR, David Isaac CBE, said that the findings presented ‘an alarming picture of the challenges to equality of opportunity that still remain in modern 21st century Britain’. The report called for a more comprehensive and coordinated response from the government to tackle race inequality in the justice system. It concluded that the disadvantages experienced by people from ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system couldn’t be dealt with without adopting a holistic approach which recognised the interrelationship between different elements of people’s lives.
According to the Commission, addressing race inequality in Britain required a strategy that addressed the education attainment gap, considered the role of mental health services in providing support and acknowledged the relationship between socio-economic exclusion and political disengagement.
The report also found that immigration detainees faced numerous barriers to finding legal help. Numbers of people entering immigration removal centres increased by 71% from 2009 to 2015, with increasing numbers being held beyond the maximum time limit of 18 months set by the EU Returns Directive.
Longer term detainees, often with the greatest need for legal advice, were commonly left without help as a result of failings in the current legal aid system. The report noted that recent legal aid reforms have had a particularly adverse impact on access to justice for ethnic minorities.
Mehdi Shakarchi is a solicitor with a particular interest in criminal defence and human rights. He is currently an intern with Reprieve's Middle East death penalty team and a commissioning editor with the Justice Gap