Racial Bias and the Bench - one year on, has progress been made in the legal system?

An event is set to take place that will assess whether progress has been made in meeting the challenges outlined by a groundbreaking report into racial bias in our legal system, one year after its publication.

The event, which will take place on Tuesday 7 November in London and via livestream, will see The University of Manchester’s Professor Gary Younge chair a panel discussion with guests including Abimbola Johnson from Doughty Street Chambers, Graham Ritchie from the Crown Prosecution Service; Katrina Ffrench from UNJUST, Haroon Siddique from the Guardian, and the authors of the report Professor Eithne Quinn from The University of Manchester and Keir Monteith KC from Garden Court Chambers. This will be followed by a discussion with the audience and a drinks reception.

Last Autumn, the Racial Bias and the Bench report was published in response to the Judicial Diversity and Inclusion Strategy (2020-2025) and raised urgent questions about racial attitudes and practices in the justice system of England and Wales.

The report drew on a survey of 373 legal professionals, in which 95% of those who responded said that racial bias plays some role in the processes or outcomes of the legal system, and 29% said it played a ’fundamental role’. A majority of respondents had witnessed one or more judges acting in a racially biased way towards a defendant and in their decision-making.

While the report found evidence that some judges are already acting in ’antiracist’ ways by being knowledgeable about racism - and seeking to mitigate it - only a minority of respondents had ever seen a judge act in this way.

One year on, leading experts, practitioners and policymakers are coming together with report authors to assess what, if any, progress has been made in meeting the challenges outlined in the report, and to urge the profession to demand and drive forward change.

"Having met with academics and co-authors from The University of Manchester, I welcome their latest report which adds further evidence and provides feedback directly from members of the legal profession and judiciary," said Shadow Foreign Secretary and author of the Lammy Review David Lammy MP at the time of the report’s publication. "Action to embed compulsory antiracist and racial bias training for all judicial office holders, which is a key recommendation of the report, would encourage a culture shift towards antiracist practice."

The legal professionals surveyed for the Racial Bias and the Bench research project offered extensive, detailed accounts of racial discrimination and racism in our courts. The challenge now is for sector leaders and policymakers to recognise and confront this racism. Our report, along with the work of many others, has had traction; but there is much more to do. This open event presents an important moment to review, learn and actuate change.

" Racial Bias and the Bench set out 10 clear recommendations to achieve meaningful change - although the content of our report is shocking, it has been universally well received," said Keir Monteith KC. "Those at the top need to start by publicly and sincerely acknowledging that Institutional Racism in the legal system exists. This toxic problem has to be addressed head on to ensure we have a fairer, more resilient and more democratically-accountable judiciary."

The event, organised by The University of Manchester in partnership with Garden Court Chambers and the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity, will take place from 6-8pm on Tuesday 7 November at {10 - 11} Carlton House Terrace. It is free to attend or to watch online, but attendees must register beforehand at https://www.eventbrite.com/­e/racial-b­ias-and-th­e-bench-on­e-year-on-­tickets-73­2315875497 .

Study at The University of Manchester opens in new window