Paul Rogers for The Times
A landmark report into the experiences of ethnic minorities with the police and courts failed to address the reason that many distrust the system, criminal lawyers have said.
Criminal law specialists welcomed the recommendations of the review by David Lammy, the Labour MP, but said that the review was incomplete.
The report found that British people from ethnic minority backgrounds faced bias and overt discrimination in some areas. And as a result, many of them take a jaundiced view the criminal justice system.
However, two lawyers from the London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen said that “disappointingly, the report does not discuss why mistrust exists in the first place”. Joanna Bennett, a civil liberties solicitor, and her colleague, Raj Chada, a crime specialist partner at the firm, said in a joint statement: “Until those issues that generate mistrust are addressed and there is some accountability, it’s difficult to see how real progress can be made.”
The legal profession establishment was cautious in its response to the Lammy report, which had been commissioned by David Cameron during his time as prime minister.
The Bar Council, which represents more than 15,000 barristers in England and Wales, agreed with Lammy over the potential benefits of setting targets to increase the number of ethnic minority judges.
However, Robin Allen, QC, chairman of the Bar’s committee on equality, diversity and social mobility, argued that “targets are not the complete solution”.
He said that the council was developing a foundation course in “judge-craft”, which aims to “demystify the skills needed for judicial appointment and increase the confidence, particularly of ethnic minorities, women and those from a non-traditional background, when applying”.
Meanwhile, the Law Society, which represents 130,000 solicitors in England and Wales, used the Lammy report as an opportunity to revive its campaign against successive government cuts to legal aid rates for lawyers.
"Criminal legal aid solicitors are critical for ensuring that anyone accused of wrongdoing has a fair trial,” Joe Egan, the society’s president, said. “But the viability of firms doing criminal defence work is under threat as remuneration rates for criminal legal aid work have not been increased since 1998.”
One solicitor on the ground agreed. Robert Brown, a partner at the London law firm Corker Binning, described another of Lammy’s proposals, that those arrested be offered the choice of duty solicitors and advice from barristers at an earlier stage in the process, as being “completely unachievable” because of legal aid cuts.