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Justice system must be fairer

UNFAIR: A Race and Ethnicity Board has been created to bring around change in the justice system

IT IS unacceptable that any group of people in society should receive worse treatment by the criminal justice system than another.

It should be a matter of concern to everybody in Britain that black people are so overrepresented in prison, making up 12 per cent of adult prisoners in 2015/16 and more than 20 per cent of children in custody. This is despite representing just three per cent of the wider population.

As David Lammy MP rightly pointed out in his incisive review into the treatment of people of different races in the criminal justice system, this is a deeply rooted problem which goes much wider than criminal justice.

He found that black boys are more likely to be permanently excluded from school than white boys, and more likely to
be arrested as teenagers.

At the same time, people from a black background are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than those from a white background.

In 2017, the Prime Minister commissioned the largest ever collection and publication of data in one place on the way people of different races are treated by public services across the UK – including in relation to health, education and housing. This will be a crucial part of efforts to tackle injustices across the UK.


It is one of the fundamental principles of the United Kingdom’s criminal justice system that everyone should be treated equally under the law. Yet, we know that some groups in society have a deep mistrust of our criminal justice
system and feel that it is biased against them.

That is why I’m committed to taking forward work around each of Mr Lammy’s recommendations. For example, we have accepted to the ‘explain or change’ principle to explain race disparities.

Where we can’t explain differences in outcomes for certain groups, we will undertake reform to eliminate those disparities. We are already pushing ahead with some recommendations, for example prison governors have been asked to immediately implement the recommendation to establish a diverse forum in prisons to review the use of force.

The big test is going to be whether we can cut through what Mr Lammy rightly identified as the enormous levels of mistrust towards the criminal justice system among many in black communities.

That will mean improving the diversity of those working across our criminal justice system, including in the judiciary by improving the path people take to get into the legal profession in the first place – and making sure they have the support they need to progress.

We will also be gathering, analysing and publishing more data.
Understanding the issues will help us shine a spotlight on and better understand where the differences are and what is causing them.


Progress on improving racial disparities will be judged by action, not just words. That is why we have set up a new Race and Ethnicity Board, made up of the key partners in the criminal justice system, which will be responsible for ensuring the Lammy recommendations are implemented and that work is driven forward.

We want to build a fairer and more just society for all.
Effective justice simply cannot be delivered unless everyone has full confidence in our criminal justice system.

This is the very first step in a change of attitude towards race disparity that will touch on every part of the criminal justice system for years to come.

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