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 You are in: Analysis
Changing Face of Justice

By Peter Gould
BBC News Online home affairs

Judges are overwhelmingly white

For many members of ethnic minorities, the face of British justice looks very white.

In many parts of the criminal justice system, black and Asian people are significantly under represented.

And the higher up the promotion ladder you go, the fewer people you encounter from ethnic communities.

In the police, very few blacks and Asian officers have risen to the rank of superintendent.

And while the legal profession is becoming more diverse, top judges and QCs are still overwhelmingly white.

I would be the first to accept that for 150 years we have been a white, male organisation

Sir Anthony Burden of South Wales Police
The one place where ethnic minorities are significantly over represented is in prison.

The crime reduction charity, Nacro, says the system works against members of ethnic minorities.

"We have a criminal justice process in which mainly white professionals arrest, prosecute, sentence and hold in prison a disproportionate number of black defendants," says chief executive Paul Cavadino.

Attitudes may be changing, and reforms are underway. But it will be years before the criminal justice system fully reflects the diversity of British society.

The Commission for Racial Equality has described racism in the police, the courts and the prison system as a "triple whammy" facing ethnic minorities.

Following its handling of the investigation into the murder of black teenager Stephen Lawrence, the Metropolitan Police found itself branded as "institutionally racist".

Minorities are over represented in prison
The Crown Prosecution Service and the Prison Service have also found themselves under investigation.

Working practices throughout the criminal justice system are under review as never before.

So to what extent is the system biased against ethnic minorities, either in its dealings with the public, or in its treatment of those within its ranks?

Because of the focus on issues of race, there has been a lot of research in recent years, and there are now more figures to analyse.

But as with most statistics, there are often arguments about the interpretation to be drawn from the data.

Looking at the UK as a whole, ethnic minorities now make up about 7% of the population.

Yet in police forces across England and Wales, just 2% of their officers are non-white.

In a survey carried out in 2000, there were 1,407 officers of the rank of superintendent or above. Only 11 were from ethnic minorities.

It is very important that the justice system reflects the community it is dealing with

District Judge, Ray Singh
Members of black communities say this imbalance is reflected in the way they are treated on the streets.

The chief constable of South Wales Police, Sir Anthony Burden, acknowledges that to win the confidence of the public means the service must reflect the society it polices.

"I would be the first to accept that for 150 years we have been a white, male organisation, and we have had to change," he says.

"I think there are issues where members of the public think the police service is racist, and the only way we’re going to break down that sort of reputation is for people to come into the service and be able to reflect the accuracy of the situation, which is quite simply that the police service is not a racist organisation."

Some minority ethnic groups still need convincing. The use of stop and search powers by the police has drawn repeated complaints.

The number of "stops" may have fallen, but in 1999/2000, black people were five times more likely to be searched than whites.

And many black people believe they are more likely to be regarded as suspects by the police.

But researchers point out that the breakdown of people living in a particular area may not match those actually on the streets at times when the police have reason to be looking for suspects.

Official figures also show that black people are four times more likely to be arrested than whites, relative to the population.

BBC News Online survey

Question: Do think you'd get a fair trial?

But the Crown Prosecution Service is more likely to terminate cases involving black and Asian defendants. And when cases go to trial, they are more likely to be acquitted than white defendants.

Paul Cavadino, of Nacro, says it is clear from such figures that people from ethnic minorities are more likely to be arrested on flimsier evidence, compared to white suspects.

In the Crown Prosecution Service, ethnic minorities are slightly over-represented, compared to population, but are less in evidence in senior grades.

In the Magistrates Courts, the ethnic mix of the bench also reflects society as a whole. But there is notably less diversity in the courts that deal with more serious cases.

In a survey of the judiciary carried out in 2000, there was not a single High Court judge from an ethnic minority.

As a District Judge, Ray Singh tries civil cases in Wales. To date, he is the only judge on the Welsh bench to have been appointed from an ethnic minority.

He believes it is important for public confidence in the legal system that other black and Asian lawyers should join him.

"We live in a multi-cultural, multi-racial society," he says.

"It is very important that the justice system reflects the community it is dealing with.

"Of course, we don’t want to see minority ethnic lawyers being appointed to a judicial capacity by way of tokenism. They must be appointed on merit, and I think there is a greater pool available now."

Singh is the only non-white judge in Wales
Critics of the criminal justice system say the end result of discrimination at various stages of the process is that ethnic minorities make up 18% of the prison population.

That is partly due to the fact that black men tend to serve longer sentences.

In women’s prisons, the figures are even more striking, with non-white prisoners making up a quarter of the population. But here the picture is complicated by the number of foreign nationals held in our jails.

Looking at the system overall, the Commission for Racial Equality argues that more has to be done to provide a system of justice that is fair to all.

Its verdict: "All the indicators suggest that if you are black or an ethnic minority you are less likely to be treated justly."

And Paul Cavadino, of Nacro, warns that discrimination has to be eradicated from the criminal justice process:

“Otherwise there is a serious risk of even greater alienation of black communities from the law enforcement process.”

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