Ethnic Minorities in the Criminal Courts
09/03/2003 Black Britain

 
Ethnic Minorities in the Criminal Courts

According to the research, most complaints about racial bias concerned sentences perceived to be more severe than those imposed on a similar white defendant

 
"Perceptions of racial bias... may well arise from a belief that the disproportionately large number of black people caught up by the criminal justice and prison systems must, at least to some extent, be a reflection of racism"


Ethnic Minorities in the Criminal Courts

According to a study by the Lord Chancellorís Department amongst black defendants and lawyers in particular there was a belief that the authority and legitimacy of the courts, and confidence in them, would be strengthened if more personnel from ethnic minorities were seen to be playing a part in the administration of criminal justice.

The study was carried out by the University of Oxford Centre for Criminological Research in association with the University of Birmingham School of Law.

The research investigated the extent to which ethnic minority defendants and witnesses in Crown and magistrates' courts perceived their treatment to have been unfair, whether any unfairness was attributed to racial bias, and how this affected their confidence in the criminal courts.

Their experiences were compared with those of white defendants. The study also took into account the views of court staff, judges, magistrates and lawyers.

The research provides that when ethnic minority defendants were asked whether they thought their unfair treatment in court had anything to do with their ethnicity, a lower proportion said definitely, twenty per cent (20%) of black defendants in the Crown Court said yes they had been unfairly treated because of their ethnicity, and ten per cent (10%) in the magistrates' courts. About 12.5% of Asian defendants in both types of court thought they had been unfairly treated because of their ethnicity.

According to the research, most complaints about racial bias concerned sentences perceived to be more severe than those imposed on a similar white defendant. Very few perceived racial bias in the conduct or attitude of judges or magistrates. Only three per cent (3%) in the Crown Court and one per cent (1%) in the magistrates' courts.

There were no complaints about racist remarks from the bench provides the research.

Sixteen per cent (16%) of witnesses in the Crown Court complained of unfair treatment, almost the same proportion amongst black, white and Asian witnesses. But none of the 68 ethnic minority witnesses complained of racial bias states the research.

The research recognised that there were still real perceptions of racial bias which has to be addressed. This fact provides the researchers is sufficient cause to continue the efforts towards eliminating the vestiges of perceived unequal treatment.

Report states, "Perceptions of racial bias, more frequently held by black defendants in the Crown Court, may well arise from a belief that the disproportionately large number of black people caught up by the criminal justice and prison systems must, at least to some extent, be a reflection of racism. Every effort therefore should be made when passing sentence to demonstrate and convince defendants that no element of racial stereotyping or bias has entered into the decision"

The report concludes that it had identified a cultural change which meant differential sentencing of white and ethnic minority defendants was being eliminated. However states the report if this not shown, views that there is differential sentencing based on race will continue to be held.
The study took into account the views of court staff, judges, magistrates and lawyers. 1,252 people were interviewed in Manchester, Birmingham, and London and the proceedings in more than 500 cases were observed.