Defendants will no longer need to give their nationality at the start of a criminal court case as a result of new criminal procedures rules which make clear that the question will only be asked if someone is convicted and imprisoned.
The reform follows a campaign by the not-for-profit criminal defence firm Commons Legal who described the rule change as a ‘positive step towards a fairer, less racist justice system’.
?BREAKING!?Today the law changes: defendants no longer need to give their nationality at the start of a criminal court case.
This is one positive step towards a fairer, less racist justice system.
Watch our video on how we + our supporters helped make this happen. pic.twitter.com/PvOaY9mkfw
— Commons Legal (@CommonsLegal) February 8, 2021
In 2017, the Conservative Government under Theresa May passed a law requiring all defendants in criminal cases to declare their nationality in court, under section 162 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017. The move came into force two months after the publication of the Lammy Review, which highlighted ‘bias, including overt discrimination, in parts of the justice system’. The law received criticisms from many including David Lammy MP who highlighted how ‘some defendants, particularly non-British nationals or those from ethnic minority backgrounds, feel they may…be discriminated against’.
In May 2020, Commons published The State of Innocence, detailing research and investigations into the impact of this policy and assessed its fairness to people of colour, especially non-British nationals. Commons’ volunteer court observers found that the practice had ‘racialised English courtrooms’. Nine out of 10 legal practitioners surveyed (134 in total) felt that the nationality requirement had ‘a negative impact on the perception of fairness in the justice system’ and close to seven out of 10 (69%) felt the it had a negative impact on protection against discrimination.
The new criminal procedures rules mean that the question will no longer be asked before the conviction of any criminal offence. The reformed rules 3.16 and 3.21 will now only require the identification of ‘name and date of birth’ instead of “name, date of birth and nationality.”
David Lammy MP welcomed the move describing the practice as ‘unfair, unnecessary and discriminatory’ and said that it was ‘always wrong’ to ask defendants about their nationality before conviction.