May 21 2024
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White suspects’ charge rate of 70% compares to 81% for ‘mixed heritage’ suspects

White suspects’ charge rate of 70% compares to 81% for ‘mixed heritage’ suspects

HMP Portland: Photo by Andy Aitchison, ©Prisonimage

White suspects had a charge rate of 70% compared to 81% for ‘mixed heritage’ suspects, according to ‘alarming’ new statistics revealed in a parliamentary debate in which the government repeatedly denied that people were treated differently on the basis of race in the justice system. Lord Tony Woodley, a Labour peer and member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Miscarriages of Justice, tabled the debate and challenged a claim by the justice minister, Lord Christopher Bellamy that ‘race plays no part in individual charging decisions’.

Lord Woodley pointed to a report from the Crown Prosecution Service published last year which ‘found evidence of disproportionality in relation to ethnicity in the outcomes of our decision-making’ and that ‘ethnic minority defendants are significantly more likely to be charged for a comparable offence than White British defendants’. ‘Can the Minister explain why?’he asked.

Lord Roborough otherwise known as Massey John Henry Lopes, a hereditary peer and fourth Baron of Roborough, answered on behalf of the government. He replied by reference to the David Lammy’s 2017 review of race and the criminal justice system which, in his words, ‘found no issues with the outcomes of CPS charging decisions’. ‘As we all know, individuals commit crimes, and it is up to us to ensure that they are treated fairly and equally,’ Lord Roborough said. He revealed that the CPS was to undertake further research to ‘provide a deeper understanding of this issue and to find solutions as to how best the system can address it’.

The Lib Dem peer Baroness Meral Hussain-Ece pointed out that knowledge of disparity and bias was ‘not new’ and the CPs and MoJ already had ‘extensive data’. ‘I find it very disappointing for the Minister to say that we do not why this is still happening. We know that black defendants spend an average of 70% longer in prison awaiting trial and sentencing than their white counterparts—the Government’s own data shows this—and we know that black and Asian people in prison are more likely to be serving longer sentences than other groups. Do not these shocking figures really lay bare how racism and injustice is hardwired into the criminal justice system?’

Lord Roborough replied by saying that he ‘did not accept’ the Baroness’s comments that individuals were ‘necessarily being treated differently’. ‘However, the research did find an issue, and the CPS is taking several steps to ensure that this work is both credible and robust,’ he answered. The Eton-educated peer pointed out that CPS itself demonstrated ‘a remarkable ethnically diverse workforce’ acknowledging that did not ‘answer my noble friend’s question precisely’.

The human rights lawyer, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti followed that assertion, by asking: ‘Does the Minister agree that my liking for “The Godfather” movies makes me no more or less likely to be a member of the mafia? If I am right about that, why are young black British men being prosecuted for serious violent offences in reliance of evidence of their liking for rap and drill music?’

Lord Roborough said that the government did ‘not accept that they are more likely to be prosecuted…. The raw data suggests that they are being charged more aggressively than the white majority, but we do not understand the factors behind that.’ He said that the CPS was ‘mindful that labels such as “gang” can lead to discrimination by racially stereotyping defendants’. ‘That is why prosecution guidance on gang-related offending is clear that prosecutors should not refer to gangs unless there is clear evidence to support the assertion,’ he added.

The peer was further challenged by the Lib Dem Peer Lord Paul Scriven that he been presented with evidence of racism in the criminal justice ‘three times’ but each time insisted that there was no difference in the way people were treated on the basis of their race. ‘Can he furnish the House with the evidence base that allows him to say that with such certainty?’

Lord Roborough replied:

‘My Lords, while we accept that the research from the University of Leeds, which covered 195,000 cases between January 2018 and December 2021, found that white British suspects had the lowest charge rate of 69.9%, and mixed-heritage suspects had a charge rate of between 77.3% and 81.3%, the statistics are alarming, which is why the CPS has responded by conducting this independent review on a timescale which I hope will please the House, reporting by the end of 2024.’