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EQUAL – Action for Race Equality in the Criminal Justice System

By Nina Champion, CJA Director

This week I was honoured to speak at the launch of EQUAL, which is taking forward the recommendations of the Young and Lammy Reviews to tackle inequalities for BAME and Muslim communities across the criminal justice system. I talked about the CJA’s work in this area including on stop and search and emphasised that our new strategy, to be launched next year, has race equality as a vital golden thread.

equal logo

The launch was timely given the prominence of race in the media, and in several reports in recent weeks:

  • The Guardian highlighted the ‘everyday racism’ impacting outcomes of BAME people across every walk of life, including criminal justice.
  • CJA member Clinks’ State of the Sector report found ‘there is inconsistent understanding of the needs of people protected under the Equality Act (2010) and the protected characteristics the act defines’.
  • Civil Society Futures found so few voluntary sector organisations talked about race inequality during their inquiry, they commissioned a specific report to find out why. They revealed it was often left to small, under-funded specialist organisations to advocate on behalf of BAME communities.
  • The Information Commissioner’s Office found the Metropolitan Police gangs’ matrix breached data protection laws and lacked an equality impact assessment.
  • CJA member NatCen won a Global Equality and Diversity Award for their report into enhancing police diversity and the Zahid Mubarak Trust won the CJA outstanding organisation award.

HMPPS also published its annual report on inequalities, showing black prisoners are more likely to be on basic regime, BAME people are less likely to get community or suspended sentence orders, and black prisoners have fewer days on ROTL.  At EQUAL’s launch Iqbal Wahhab, the new Chair, stated ‘the trends are not going in the right direction’. He said ‘we need to be more proactive. We need to offer solutions and have a unified voice’.  He pledged to use the platform of being High Sheriff of Greater London next year to promote the messages of EQUAL more widely.

Tanya O’Carroll from Amnesty International called for greater ‘institutional bravery’ and for the sector to get behind the EQUAL priority of campaigning for a radical re-think of the gang’s matrix, which stigmatises young people rather than safeguarding them. I spoke about the CJA’s current work on effective community scrutiny for stop and search. An audience member from the Equality and Human Rights Commission raised concerns about the Home Secretary’s calls to ‘reduce police bureaucracy’ around stop & search and BTEG criticised the recent unhelpful ‘policy kite’ flown that suggested abolishing the need for reasonable grounds for searches.  I agreed that both of these could seriously undermine legitimacy, and reminded the audience of David Lammy’s principle that ‘scrutiny is the best way of delivering fair treatment’.

Jeremy Crook, Chief Executive of BTEG, rounded off the event by calling for bold ideas to develop the institutional cultures that enable BAME people to thrive.  He commented that this comes down to leadership and improving the diversity of the workforce to a critical mass to create that culture change. He suggested the local resident requirement for new recruits for Met Police officers should be re-instated and also called for police to focus on building trust with BAME communities, rather than relying on tactics such as armed police patrols. He concluded, ‘We can only see change by collaborating together within and beyond sectors.’

The CJA looks forward to working with EQUAL and our 150 members to help maintain the momentum of the Young and Lammy reports and find solutions to the systemic inequalities that plague the criminal justice system. Together we can achieve a fairer and more effective criminal justice system.