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Race, the CJS and the Lammy Review


David Lammy’s independent government sponsored review of the treatment of, and outcomes for, black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people in the Criminal Justice System is unique in a number of ways; particularly an opposition MP being asked to lead an independent government inquiry of any type is quite unprecedented.

That the inquiry is focused on a subject area as contentious and emotive as race and CJS only adds to the challenge.

Lammy himself has been keen to stress this context, often stating that had he been asked to complete this review for his own party leader it may have had a different feel than the one he will produce for the Prime Minister. Clearly a strong sense of realpolitik is at the forefront of Lammy’s thinking and its been made very clearly that he won’t bring forward proposals that don’t have a strong evidence base and/or are likely to be politically unpalatable to the Prime Minister and Secretary of State of Justice. 

As somebody who has worked quite closely with Lammy’s review team I have often been put in the position of defending the review to the charge that Lammy will fail to hold the CJS to account. At BTEG we understand some of the scepticism that this review has received in BAME communities and other circles. Undoubtedly, over the past eight years, race has diminished as a priority across the criminal justice system. Our view is that we have to be realistic in our expectations but we are fully committed to engage and support the work of the review.

Lammy himself did a fine job in rejecting the notion that he would be producing a timid report with the speech he gave in July on gangs at a conference on ethnic disproportionality in London’s youth justice system, held at London Councils in partnership with BTEG. At the conference he gave a powerful, thoughtful, evidence based critique of valid concerns around the use of gang’s databases. He raised legitimate concerns around civil liberties, the highest levels of ethnic disproportionality that he has seen so far within the CJS, the use of such information as evidence in court and the concern that rather than diverting young people from the CJS, gangs policy could be pulling many into it by way of mere association, where they reside and their ethnic background.

From this example it’s clear that Lammy will not shy away from bringing forward the difficult questions where he finds the evidence base to support his assertions.

From the position of the Young Review and BTEG, with a new Secretary of State for Justice who has hit the pause button on Michael Gove’s prison reforms, it is essential that such a core part of CJS reform places addressing ethnic disproportionality at its heart from the get go and doesn’t park it with the stock answer of `we are waiting for the Lammy Review’s report.’

The context of change politically has been huge over the past few months. As the dust settles after the referendum and with a new incumbent at 10 Downing Street for me there’s a sense that post-Brexit Britain is in search of a new national identity.

The Prime Minister has put addressing inequality at the centre of her vision. The timing of the Lammy Review couldn’t be better. 

Photo credit: Policy Exchange via / CC BY




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