19:12, December 18 266 0 theguardian.com

2017-12-18 19:12:02
London prosecutions could be dropped or delayed in pilot scheme

Prosecutions of suspects in London could be deferred or dropped under a pilot programme being considered by the government that is aimed at tackling racial bias in the criminal justice system.

In a detailed response to the ground-breaking report by David Lammy on differential treatment and outcomes for those from black and minority ethnic communities, the Ministry of Justice has agreed to carry forward most of the Labour MP’s recommendations.

Lammy – who pointed out that black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) men and women represent 25% of prisoners despite making up just 14% of the population – welcomed the government’s commitments but attacked its refusal to set diversity targets for a representative judiciary and magistracy by 2025.

“BAME individuals still face bias – including overt discrimination – in parts of our justice system, which treats ethnic minorities more harshly than white Britons,” Lammy said.

“The time for talking is over and I therefore welcome the government’s clear commitment to addressing these issues and I am pleased that many of my recommendations will be acted upon.

But, he warned, the government was inconsistent in accepting targets for diversity of prison governors while refusing to adopt them for the bench.

“I am disappointed that the government have not felt able to move forward on targets or goals to achieve a representative judiciary and magistracy” he said.

“I found that the lack of diversity within our judiciary and magistracy has a significant effect on the trust deficit that I found in Britain’s BAME communities in relation to how the justice system is perceived.

“My review demonstrated the lack of progress over the last decade in improving diversity amongst the judges that sit in our courts, and I am clear that more of the same will not work.”

Endorsing Lammy’s government-commissioned study, the justice secretary, David Lidington, said he was “committed to exposing injustice wherever it exists. Where we cannot explain differences in outcomes for different groups, we will reform”.

“Effective justice simply cannot be delivered unless everyone has full confidence in our criminal justice system.”

Where any of Lammy’s 35 recommendations “cannot be implemented in full or exactly as recommended, further work will be carried out and an alternative approach will be found that achieves the same aim,” the ministry pledged.

“A consistent, cross-criminal justice system approach” to recording and analysing ethnicity data will be introduced, the department promised, and a new race and ethnicity board to encourage progress will be established.

Lammy’s report, published in September, highlighted the fact that there was “greater disproportionality” in the number of black people in prisons in England and Wales than in the US. Black people make up 3% of population in England and Wales and 12% of the prison population, compared with 13% and 35% respectively, in the US.

One of Lammy’s most radical proposals was to extend deferred prosecutions schemes under which suspects can enter rehabilitation programmes without having to admit guilt.

They have been piloted successfully in New Zealand, California and in the little-noticed Operation Turning Point programme in the West Midlands.

Those successfully completing such programmes have their charges dropped, but those who do not face criminal proceedings. Such schemes, Lammy said, should be extended across in England and Wales.

Violent offenders who have gone through Operation Turning Point were found to be 35% less likely to reoffend than those who went through normal criminal justice channels.

The ministry acknowledges that deferred prosecutions may be particularly helpful in keeping youths out of the criminal justice system, preventing them from obtaining a criminal record that would blight future employment prospects.

“Deferred prosecution raises a complex set of issues and so a fully tested, evidence-based approach is appropriate,” the government response states. “We are looking at the findings from Operation Turning Point [and] … based on this evidence, we will explore opportunities to extend testing of a deferred prosecution model in other police and crime commissioner areas.

“As part of this, we are in discussions with the mayor’s office for policing and crime about a potential trial in London.” If it goes ahead, it is likely to involve parts of the capital rather than across the whole of London.

In response to another key Lammy recommendation, the Ministry of Justice pointed out that recent Crown Prosecution Service reviews have concluded that evidence of association a group or gang, without any other evidence, should not be sufficient to charge an accomplice with an offence.