The Magistrates Association (MA) has given its initial response to today’s publication of the Rt Hon David Lammy MP’s review into 'the treatment of and outcomes for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the Criminal Justice System'. A copy of the report is available here.
As the only independent charity representing magistrates in England and Wales, the MA has engaged with the Lammy Review since it began in January 2016. This has included liaising with sitting magistrates to gain their insights, which informed our submission to the review and our contributions to stakeholder meetings and roundtables.
The MA welcomes the research undertaken in the report and shares deep concerns about the disproportionality in the number of custodial sentences received by people from BAME communities, especially children. We take careful note of the fact that the report highlights BAME disproportionality, particularly in the youth justice system. The MA has welcomed the work that has gone into successfully diverting young people from court or custody where appropriate. However, we are very concerned the report identifies a trend that as more young people are successfully diverted, disproportionality has increased.
The MA will be providing a full response to the Lammy Report in due course, but there are some specific areas that we particularly welcome.
Highlighting the importance of trust and confidence in the criminal justice system is essential. Both trust and confidence can be fostered by informing and educating the wider public about the criminal justice system, allowing people to see for themselves the system is fair and transparent. The MA’s commitment to informing and educating is reflected in its charitable objects and its long-standing ‘Magistrates in the Community’ programme.
The report’s Recommendation 11 chimes with the MA’s own long-standing calls for better data collection in the magistrates’ court, given that over 90% of all criminal cases are dealt with with in magistrates’ courts.
In addition, the MA particularly welcomes Recommendation 17, the proposal to ensure maturity is assessed and that the court is presented with this information to assist it in its judicial decision-making.
Commenting on the report, Jon Collins, Chief Executive of the Magistrates Association, said:
"The Magistrates Association welcomes David Lammy’s important report, which provides valuable insight into the drivers of disproportionality in the criminal justice system.
"Over-representation of BAME people in the criminal justice system has long been a concern for the MA and all those of us working in the justice system have a responsibility to ensure that every defendant is treated fairly.
"We look forward to working with colleagues from across the system to address the issues raised in this report.”
Over-representation of BAME people in the criminal justice system has long been an an issue of concern for the MA and we therefore welcomed the establishment of the Lammy Review. Reflecting on the report of the review:
- We acknowledge that disproportionality throughout the criminal justice system will impact on previous criminal history, charging and pre-sentence reports, which subsequently impact on sentencing decisions.
- We welcome analysis of data which tries to assess where the disproportionality occurs, but we point out the difficulty around analysing sentencing data as considerations like previous convictions, charging decisions, guilty pleas, and recommendations in pre-sentence reports cannot easily be accounted for.
- We welcome the report’s acknowledgment that further study is needed to identify the impact of distinct factors (such as aggravating or mitigating factors and PSR recommendations), although the MA agrees it is important that the need for further research does not prevent initial steps being taken now.
- We acknowledge that unconscious bias is an issue throughout the criminal justice system - the Judicial College already provide training on unbiased decision-making to magistrates, but there is more work to be done.
- We would like to highlight that the MA’s AGM motions last year involved the deepening of magistrates’ understanding around the carrying out of sentences post-court. This included the importance of magistrates’ training including prison visits. The MA have regularly called for this to be widened to include community options.
- We also welcome the report’s acknowledgement that there are underlying causes for disproportionality, including trust in the system These have a significant impact on interactions with the criminal justice system and also illustrate the need for a joined-up approach with different agencies and institutions.
- We take careful note of the focus in the report on youth justice, where issues of disproportionality are particularly worrying. The MA has welcomed the work that has gone into successfully diverting young people from court or custody where appropriate. Yet the trend identified in this report is that the disproportionality for BAME young people is increasing and that is very concerning.
- We are keen to emphasise the role of scrutiny panels in providing oversight of police actions – including the important role the panels play in increasing legitimacy, and therefore trust and confidence in the system. You can see our research on this topic here.
- We welcome the fact the report highlights the complexities of looking at people from BAME backgrounds as a homogeneous group, and the need for a nuanced approach to identify issues in specific groups such as those from the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities.
- We recognise that it is essential that defendants know that they can be confident in the fairness of magistrates courts, no matter their background. Transparency in explaining judicial decisions is therefore essential, as is the independence of the judiciary from other criminal justice system agencies, and ensuring fairness and respectful treatment of all parties. This will contribute to increasing legitimacy of the system, thus engendering confidence and trust in the system.
- We point out that the MA has already initiated discussions with stakeholders, but is committed to continuing to work with others to find solutions to the issues raised by the Lammy Review.