A picture taken on September 19, 2017 at Rennes' courthouse shows a statue of the goddess of Justice balancing the scales. / AFP PHOTO / LOIC VENANCE (Photo credit should read LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images)

by LAUREN CODLING

LABOUR MP David Lammy said the UK government is “behind the curve on diversity and needs to catch up”, as the justice secretary pledged to implement changes in the criminal justice system following Lammy’s review of it a few months ago.

Justice secretary David Lidington announced steps to challenge “racial bias” in England and Wales on Tuesday (19), following the release of the Lammy Review in September.

However, despite “welcoming” the government’s announcement they would be working on many of the recommendations, Lammy said he was “disappointed” with the decision to not commit to recommended targets for the recruitment of non-white judges by 2025.

September’s review showed only seven per cent of around 3,000 court judges were found to be from a BAME background, despite minorities making up 14 per cent of the population.

Additionally, at present, the UK supreme court does not have a single ethnic minority figure among its 12 justices.

Lammy, who represents Tottenham in north London, said: “A lack of diversity within our judiciary and magistracy has a significant affect on the trust deficit that I found in Britain’s communities in relation to how the justice system is perceived.

David Lammy, Member of Parliament (MP) for Tottenham, London (Photo by: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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

However, Lidington said a target would be “the wrong way” to tackle this specific objective and he was hoping to look at other alternative options.

He said in a national radio interview: “When you look at the judges, you have got a group of people who have been practising law perhaps for 20 years…because we need people who are experienced, who are experts, to sit on the bench.

“In getting a more diverse judiciary… you need to look at the critical path of how do people get into the legal profession in the first place.”

In response to Lidington, Lammy said it was not about the “pipeline”, arguing that ethnic minority individuals are applying to join the judiciary, but are being recommended for positions at a far lower rate than their white counterparts.

“If you set a target or a goal, then it concentrates the mind to achieve it. But the government has not done that,” the Labour MP said.

Lammy’s review also noted significant concerns regarding discrimination against ethnic minorities.

Statistics showed those from a minority background made up 25 per cent of prisoners, while over 40 per cent of BAME young people are in custody.

Lammy said his “biggest concern” was in the youth justice system. His report found that the BAME proportion of young people offending for the first time rose from 11 per cent in 2006 to 19 per cent in 2016.

The report proposed 35 recommendations, including calls to introduce ‘Local Justice Panels’ for first time offenders that invite key figures in the young person’s life to contribute to hearings, as well as holding local services to account for their rehabilitation.

Baroness Hussein-Ece, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson for equalities, welcomed the government’s efforts to implement the majority of recommendations, but voiced a shared disappointment with Lammy at the “lack of willingness to make a firm commitment” on the target of diverse representation within the judiciary.

“It is time for bold and radical action to correct racial biases that exist in our criminal justice system,” she said. “The key to this is ensuring the institutions themselves are representative.

“We need a judiciary and magistracy that accurately reflects our society and the government’s lack of willingness to make a firm commitment on this front is disappointing.”

Lawyer and diversity campaigner Funke Abimbola was also not satisfied with the decision, commenting: “It is an important element of [the recommendations] because bias in the judiciary has a direct impact on decision-making.

“This whole report was about there being proven bias against those minority ethnic backgrounds.  [Targets are] a key part in driving diversity of thought, which impacts decisions in court.”