Racist Incident Monitoring ˝

Progress by the Police.

Published in the New Law Journal [2001] 562-3.

The recently published Crown Prosecution Service report, on Racist Incident Monitoring for the year 1st April 1999 to 31st March 2000, certainly shows that the police are making some improvement when it comes to enabling the prosecution of people who commit racist crime.

At first glance, a yearly figure of 1,832 defendants being prosecuted for racist crime may seem rather disappointing when it is related to a British Crime Survey Report which suggests that the true extent of racially motivated crime is in the region of 143,000 incidents a year. However, it should be recalled that the BCS report is based upon projected figures from street interview data and is not equated to officially reported crime.

In comparison, the CPS report data emanates from prosecution case files and the outcomes of officially reported crime. In compiling their statistics, on racial incident monitoring, the CPS applied the Macpherson definition of a racist incident (this is also used by the police), which states:

Űa racist incident is any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other personÝ.

The CPS report is the first full report since the introduction of a new restructured CPS, consisting of 42 instead of the previous 13 areas, and the first full annual report reflecting the race provisions of sections 28-32 and 82 of the Crime & Disorder Act 1998.

Significant rise in the number of racist cases.

Importantly, the report shows a dramatic 50% plus rise, on the previous year, in the number of defendants facing racist incident cases. This signifies some 2,417 defendant cases of which the police themselves identified 78% as being racist (this reflects a credible police increase of 20% on the previous year).

Some 76% of the identified racist cases resulted in a prosecution, which is comparable with figures for all types of offences over the same period.

In total, the cases resulted in over 4,014 individual charges of which 2,651 were prosecuted. With 1,299 of these being racially aggravated prosecutions under the Crime & Disorder Act 1998 race provisions. Of the remainder, it is worth noting that although the CPS did not consider there was sufficient evidence to take the case to Court, they were often still able, in a high proportion of cases, to pursue their duty of supplying information to the Court admissible evidence of racial aggravation (which, under s.82 of the Crime & Disorder Act 1998, should be taken into account by the Judge or Magistrate when determining any sentence).

Some 78.5% of the defendants prosecuted were found guilty (66% pleaded guilty and 12.5% were actually found guilty). Sadly, some 797 charges were dropped of which 36% were due to witness difficulties and 41% insufficient evidence - with 13% dropped on public interest grounds and 10% because the defendant failed to attend court and/or could not be traced.

Impact of the Crime & Disorder Act 1998.

In general, these figures are promising and show some improvement on previous years. It certainly seems evident that the police are making strenuous efforts, particularly since the Stephen Lawrence - Macpherson Report, to improve the way they handle racist crime. It is also significant that the Crime & Disorder Act 1998 is beginning to have an impact, with many racial incidents resulting in racially aggravated charges being brought. However what is a little surprising is that 61% of the cases were tried in the Magistrates Court, which on face value could establish a potential inconsistency with Parliaments declared aim of establishing tougher sentences for racist crime.

Patchy results on an area basis.

Despite the progress that the police are making, it is noticeable that the success is patchy. Indeed, the CPS area figures show a significant disparity when we look at police forces area by area. For example, the Metropolitan & City Police identified 79% of the cases as being a racist incident, with the CPS establishing the remaining 21%. This compares with Lincolnshire where the Police identified only 38% (the CPS identifying the remaining 62%). Given the fairly straightforward and open ended definition of a racist incident - as being any incident which is perceived as racist by the victim or any other person - it is possibly surprising that the police should continue to have so much trouble in determining and recording racist incidents.

Disappointing figures in relation to report files.

Even more alarming is the absolute 100% failure of the police, in 8 out of 42 areas, to provide the CPS with an incident report/computer record of the racial incident with the file. This must be regarded as very disappointing, given that information contained on the report record should/could be of evidential significance which could prompt the CPS lawyer to raise further questions with the police - with a view to improving the quality of the evidence.

Improvement since the Macpherson Report.

It seems fair to conclude that the CPS annual report for 1999-2000, on racial incident monitoring, displays some promising statistical data. Certainly, it is good news that the police, post Macpherson, are showing signs of improvement when it comes to enabling the prosecution of racial incidents. They deserve to be given credit for the work they have done. However, as the racial incident report data shows, there is still much that needs to be done when it comes to gathering detailed evidence and passing it on to the Crown Prosecution Service.

The CPS racist incident monitoring figures do not signify that everything is running smoothly. However, the data does suggest that the CPS and the police have recognised the importance of developing an effective working relationship for the purposes of tackling racist crime.

While it is early days, what is especially welcoming is that both organisations seem to be making good use of the new Űracial aggravationÝ Crime & Disorder Act 1998 provisions.

 

Dr Peter Jepson.