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The Lammy Review fails to prove bias in the criminal justice system

David Lammy’s claim that there is ‘overt discrimination’ against ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system is undermined today by a Civitas paper probing the findings of his recent review.

The briefing shows how the Lammy Review fails to substantiate arguments that disparities between different ethnic groups can be explained by ‘bias’. It suggests that the government is right to reject calls for diversity quotas in the judiciary.

The new paper, by Peter Cuthbertson, challenges the supposed significance of a series of headline findings about the treatment of people from black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, including:

  • That BAME communities make up 14% of the population of England and Wales but 25% of adult prisoners, while the number of Muslim prisoners has increased from 8,900 to 13,200 in a decade. Cuthbertson shows how crime is disproportionately committed by the young, and how the BAME population is disproportionately young. These crude figures also ignore the overall growth of the BAME and Muslim populations. ‘If the overall demographics of a country change, it is unsurprising if this is reflected in its prisons.’
  • That there has been an increase in the proportion of young BAMEs offending for the first time. Cuthbertson points out that while there has been a modest increase in the proportion, the actual numbers have fallen by 74% over the last decade – from 13,000 to 3,000. This does not indicate that there is a large cohort of BAME young people on the verge of ‘filling the nation’s prisons’, as Lammy has suggested.
  • That ethnic minorities are distrustful of the criminal justice system. This does not tally with the findings of the Crime Survey of England and Wales, the latest of which finds that 66% of black people and 74% of Asian people consider the criminal justice system to be fair – compared with 67% of white people. ‘BAME and white people express similar levels of confidence in police across measures ranging from fairness to respect. There is no pattern of distrust in the criminal justice system or police.’
  • That stop and search is disproportionately used on BAME communities. Cuthbertson shows how stop and search is used more cautiously when it comes to black people than with other ethnic groups: it is white people who are most likely to be stopped and searched without arrest, and black people least likely.

The Lammy Review also acknowledges that ‘juries deliver equitable results, regardless of the ethnic make-up of the jury, or of the defendant in question’. Whites are actually the most likely to be found guilty in the Crown Courts, with Asians least likely. The data shows some variation in who receives a custodial sentence. The Lammy Review notes that this is partly owing to differences in likelihood of pleading guilty. It also reflects the seriousness of the crimes committed. White offenders are far more likely to have committed crimes with low custody rates, such as theft and summary offences – and far less likely to commit offences such as robbery and supplying class A drugs.

Peter Cuthbertson writes: ‘David Lammy’s 2017 review into the criminal justice system of England and Wales shows evidence of being overly credulous towards arguments that variation is explained by flaws in the system, rather than differences in crime rates. This is especially true given some of the substantial variation shows white suspects and criminals receiving more stringent treatment.’

David Green, director of Civitas, said: ‘The Lammy Review of last September recommended that the Government should set a target for the recruitment of ethnic minorities to the judiciary by 2025. No exact figure was given but the aim was to achieve proportionate representation, which implies that if ethnic minorities make up 14% of the population they should comprise 14% of judges and magistrates.

‘Lammy made this recommendation despite finding no evidence of bias by judges or magistrates. And yet he calls for racial quotas. His underlying doctrine is a denial of our common humanity. We are all capable of doing justice regardless of race, but Mr Lammy’s assumption is that no black person can get justice from a white judge (and presumably vice versa).

‘The vital truth is that whether someone is black or white is not relevant to their appointment as a judge. The central question is always: Do they have a judicial temperament such that they can honestly swear the oath of office, to “do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of this realm, without fear or favour, affection or ill will”.

‘We are lucky to have judges who take this pledge seriously. Not all countries are so fortunate. If Mr Lammy thinks that one of our judges has failed to act according to this oath, then he should make an open accusation against the named individual. He can do no such thing because he found no such evidence. We are left only with a smear campaign against all white judges and magistrates.

‘The Government is right to ignore his demand for racial targets and should stand its ground.’

Is there a racial disparity in the criminal justice system? A review of the Lammy Review

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