By Nina Champion, CJA Director
Earlier this week, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) published its report on ‘Tackling Racial Diversity in the Criminal Justice System’ outlining how it is taking forward the recommendations of the 2017 Lammy Review. It’s positive to see that the new government has committed to progressing this agenda. However, there is still a long way to go if we want to rebuild trust in the CJS among BAME communities, not least because the report was published on the same day as people with previous convictions were deported to Jamaica, separated from their children and families.
Here are my thoughts on some key aspects of the report.
Trust and confidence
In many ways, trust and confidence in the CJS among BAME communities has worsened since the Lammy Review; consider that black people are now over nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. Despite this, there is only one mention of stop and search in the report, which suggests officers should ‘humanise themselves’ by apologising when nothing has been found after a stop and search.
I am especially concerned that there is no mention of the significant rise in Section 60 suspicion-less searches, following a relaxing of rules around authorisation last year. According to the government’s own Equality Impact Assessment, ‘given the potentially negative impact on trust in the police that an increase in stop and search might have, [Section 60 searches] would probably risk having a negative effect on a part of the community where trust / confidence levels are typically low.’ To help restore trust and confidence the government should replace the additional safeguards around Section 60 authorisations.
I would also like to see the promised College of Policing guidance on community scrutiny published urgently, which will help ensure monitoring groups can effectively scrutinise encounters, view body worn footage, monitor disproportionality, and ensure action is taken to improve how stop and search is carried out. However, it is positive that the report announces that the Race Disparity Unit is carrying out further work around the ‘trust deficit’. I’d encourage organisations working with people impacted by stop and search to take part in the research by contacting Race_and_Ethnicity@justice.gov.uk.
I sit on the Ministerial Advisory Board for Female Offenders (ABFO) along with several other CJA members, including Women in Prison, Clinks, Prison Reform Trust and Agenda. In December, I was due to present a paper to the MP Lucy Frazer and ABFO on the issue of BAME women, alongside Sofia Buncy from the Muslim Women in Prison Project. I felt insufficient action had been taken to progress this issue, a view bolstered by the fact that there is currently no representation on the ABFO by BAME-led organisations. Unfortunately, the meeting was cancelled due to purdah, and the item has since been taken off the agenda for the February meeting.
This week’s report adds little to the update in 2018, which made similar commitments. I have met with the civil servant leading this work and emphasised that the e-learning training package must reflect the needs of BAME women, and the ‘user-centred research’ referenced must specifically seek to address issues of disparity; for example, the higher chance of BAME women being remanded into custody. I would like to see the establishment of a BAME-led working group who can help co-produce the training packages, feedback on research questions and advise on other ways in which the needs of BAME women can be met, with a ring-fenced budget to progress this work. Ideally at least two of the organisations involved should sit on the ABFO.
A policy forum held by the CJA last year highlighted the challenges many BAME-led organisations face in being commissioned by PCCs to work with victims. Following the forum, we worked with the MoJ Race Disparity team to comment on draft guidance for PCCs on how to effectively commission services for ethnic minority victims. Purdah delayed publication, but I understand it is due to be published soon. Using funding from the Lloyds Bank Foundation, the CJA will continue progressing this work to ensure PCCs increase the use of restorative justice and consider the needs of BAME and young victims when writing their Police and Crime Plans.
A key lesson of the Lammy Review was that ‘bringing decision-making out into the open and exposing it to scrutiny is the best way of delivering fair treatment.’ I am pleased that the MoJ has worked with the National Police Chief’s Council to issue guidance to improve the scrutiny of Out of Court Disposals (OOCD), including an ‘expectation for examination at least annually of disproportionality with respect of OOCDs issued to ethnic minority individuals.’ The report also mentions that work is underway to increase the accessibility and transparency of Discrimination Incident Report Forms (DIRF) for prisoners. This follows work from the Prison Reform Trust (PRT) and the Zahid Mubarek Trust (ZMT), which found widespread failings in discrimination reporting in prisons. We are working with an expert group of members, including ZMT, PRT, Independent Custody Visitors, the Association of IMBs and the Probation Institute, to look at ways to improve scrutiny of equality issues from police custody to prisons to probation. We will report on this later in the year.
At the CJA, we are committed to promoting solutions to increase the racial diversity of the criminal justice workforce. The Racial Disparity report highlights a scheme working with 55 talented BAME lawyers to improve judicial diversity (a recent report from JUSTICE found the judiciary is still dominated by white men), and that the HMPSS has ‘set a target for 14% of all new recruits to be from a BAME background by December 2020.’ Such commitments are promising, but a roundtable we held on the issue last year highlighted that recruitment is only one part of the story; the CJS must also work to retain BAME employees and offer suitable opportunities for progression and leadership roles. We are working with the MoJ workforce team to organise another event this spring, bringing together experts from across the criminal justice pathway to look at solutions and good practice from policing to parole.
I look forward to working with our members to develop these strands of work over the coming year, to ensure that we improve outcomes for BAME people. Following the re-election of Bob Neill as Chair, I hope the Justice Select Committee will build on their one-off session and launch a more detailed inquiry on building trust in the CJS with BAME communities. This will help keep the pressure on the government to deliver and help ensure the positive activities described in the report are not overridden by other policies which will have the opposite effect, such as the overuse of stop and search.