A report released by the Howard League states that the legal system’s “colourblind” and “race neutral” approach to the law is a barrier to challenging racism and discrimination. Written by Dr Alexandra Cox, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex, the report shows how lawyers are in a unique position to identify and address racism at every stage of the justice system. It aims to explore the racial disparities and the general approach towards race in the law.
Race-conscious advocacy can be used to effectively understand how racial disparities and discrimination shape an individual’s experiences in the justice system. The report explains that practitioners involved in the research felt they had few opportunities to address the negative impacts of racism relevant to their cases in criminal courts. Neutral and “colour-blind” language was employed in these cases, effectively overlooking racial disparities and discrimination. A study conducted in the course of writing the report explained that practitioners often face opposition in courtrooms when addressing the impacts of race and ethnicity in decision-making by legal authorities.
By engaging in race-conscious advocacy, lawyers can address their clients’ negative experiences with the justice system, while also expanding their personal knowledge of structural racism. The report identified the difficulty faced by lawyers when it comes to maintaining relationships with clients from ethnic minority backgrounds. It argues that clients cannot be effectively represented if their experiences of discrimination cannot be addressed or are overlooked.
The Howard League report identifies increased funding for combating structural racism as a key solution. This would facilitate increased awareness and education concerning structural racism and its impact, and help create a race-conscious legal system. The report explains that a successful way of combating racism in the legal system is to introduce experts who understand racial realities and the extent of structural racism. This can in turn address accumulated systemic disadvantages affecting clients.