Tuesday Truth (guest blog) by Raj Chada, 20/03/18

A version of this blog was previously published on HJA website here (with additional commentary by civil liberties solicitor Joanna Bennet)

Raj is speaking at the launch of the Charter for Justice event on 23rd March

Note on Lammy Review from a criminal justice system by Raj Chada

The review into the issue of discrimination and disproportionate outcomes in the Justice system is welcome; that 40 per cent of our youth prison population is from an ethnic minority is a scandal and the failure of policymakers to prioritise this issue previously means successive governments should hang their head in shame.

There are certainly some good ideas here – for example, the roll out of a deferred prosecution model, for low level offenders to receive targeted intervention before entering a plea.

This is genuinely innovative and deserves greater focus. If deferred prosecutions can work for multi-national companies that pay a fine and change their working practices to avoid a conviction, then the model can be adopted to low level offenders that if they are successfully rehabilitated they will avoid prosecution.

But Lammy’s report concludes with polite words and waffle in other areas. The “trust deficit” is a paramount issue – but where are the recommendation that will actively give us a more diverse judiciary and legal profession?

In a previous speech, Lammy adapted Ted Cantle’s “parallel lives” comment about how different ethnic groups co-exist without interacting or understanding each other. Lammy replaced ethnicity with “the haves” and “the have nots” who now have parallel lives. Surely one of the biggest issues in racial disparity is the utter failure of the judiciary to understand or even seek to understand the lives of those from the “have nots”.

As political pressure has cranked up to be “tough on sentencing”, the chance for a greater enquiry as to how the defendant got there in the first place – and what we do a society to prevent him/her from reoffending – is lost and the result is the catastrophically high prison population.

There may be some truth in Lammy’s assertion that lack of trust from BAME defendants in their own lawyers is one reason such defendants disproportionately do not plead guilty at the first opportunity to get maximum credit. But where is the joined-up solution? The new sentencing guidelines mean that credit is lost even more quickly at the first appearance. How do we establish trust if you are afforded 5 mins at the court cell door with 10 other clients to see on your list. Processing defendants does not lead to developing a system of trust – yet that is what the MoJ wants lawyers to do.

Ultimately, this battle requires more than just checks, balances and monitoring in the criminal justice system. It requires us to help individuals through support and intervention, to hold individuals to account through community mechanisms and to develop that individual so that he has sense that he or she belongs and has a stake.

The solution as to why so many BAME youths do not feel they have that stake is political not legal: An active well-funded state that exists to help all its citizens, not just one section would benefit everyone, not just BAME communities, and active work to avoid discriminatory outcomes in a Justice system that badly needs better funding is also an immediate priority.

Even the good ideas  will count for nothing if the report gathers dust- action is needed , and has to be co-ordinated with reform of a properly funded Justice system. A Charter for Justice may be just the thing to deliver that.

Original Article- Raj Chada (HJA); edited by G Foxsmith

 

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