The Lammy Review
This week on Facebook: The Lammy Review¹ — An independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) Individuals in the Criminal Justice System — caught my attention this week. Eventually I realised that there were (at least) two ways of interpreting it, primarily, either it was ‘Review’ that could be ignored unless it lead to a further ‘Report’ requiring political action, or it was a ‘Review’ the outcome of which was the ‘Report’ set by the review’s terms of reference. Calling the ‘Report’ a ‘Review’ was not helped by my inability to find a definition by the UK government that differentiated between the two, my cynicism leading me to conclude that describing it as ‘an independent review’ is civil service Mandarin for ‘file and forget’.
Will McMahon argued on the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies website, that The Lammy Review will fail to explain why black people are far more frequently criminalised if it only starts at the Crown Prosecution Service stage. He writes:
The pragmatic argument that going ‘upstream’ would make the report so long that no one would read it, does not account either for the role of the executive summary, nor the variety of social media that permit people to absorb key findings in a number of formats. Prior to social media neither William MacPherson nor Lord Scarman were requested to be concise because of the danger that making their reports too long would limit their impact.
David Lammy is not oblivious to these issues. But in accepting the terms of reference he has accepted a limitation that will not ask the crucial question: why are there so many bodies with specific social characteristics floating down the river in the first place? The artifice of an analysis ‘from the Crown Prosecution Service stage onwards’ may make for good politics but will not get to the heart of the matter. (sic)
Clearly in writing his Review Lammy was aware of the limitations placed on him by the terms of reference, which he chose to largely ignore, perhaps recognising the political sop². The Lammy Review has apparently divided those who have read it, or perhaps the readership of those who have chosen to read whichever version of its contents appeals to them. In simple terms the divisions appear to be between the political right and political left, with the political right claiming that the only data of any substance in the report is what McMahon described as, ‘The artifice of an analysis from the Crown Prosecution Service stage onwards’. The political left focused on the answers given to McMahon’s question, ‘Why are there so many bodies with specific social characteristics floating down the river in the first place?’
The answers to McMahon’s question, although included in The Lammy Review, were not asked for and the political right claim they are based purely on conjecture by Lammy, this appears to be true, although conjecture may not be the right word for it. Previous research³ points to a great divide between those seen by the police and the law abiding public as the sources of criminality. Yet, on either side of the political divide this Review has created, I doubt that there are many who are aware of the police powers listed by the Citizens Advice.
The Review states that just talking to the police can be a reason for the rationale that leads to the perception of BAME criminality. There are many reasons why talking to the police without the advice of a solicitor could be wrong that do not just apply to BAME individuals. From the USA, A Law Professor Explains Why You Should Never Talk to Police (the USA being where most of this advice is to be found) but there is A guide to “No Comment” police interviews for the UK. There already exists amongst those classified as BAME a distrust of the police, attitudes that were beyond Lammy’s terms of reference but which he addressed anyway — McMahon again:
While the theme of institutionalised racism and the harm it causes in criminal justice operations is in need of examination, the question of why many BAME groups are disproportionately arrested in the first place — arrest being the crucial gatekeeping process, despite there being no evidence that their behaviours differ from the general population — immediately leads away from an analysis of intra-institutional processes and towards broader social questions. (sic)
The Lammy Review has added to the previous research on crime in the UK but, in my opinion has added nothing new. No ‘myth’ has been burst, the views expresses in the Review have been held for many years on both sides of a wide social divide. The socially deprived or socially excluded have always been ill served by the Criminal Justice System throughout recorded history. To create a pseudo socio-economic group and call it BAME does not address the underlying issue that the problem has always been (and will always be) cultural. FE (Further Education) Week claims that Education is the missing piece in David Lammy’s race review puzzle, while this may be true, the problems identified by the Review are as entangled as the Gordian knot and are not — necessarily — ‘race’ related. The problems are embedded in cultural perceptions of the Criminal Justice System, perceptions that go much further than those relating to BAME individuals. The Lammy Review is hardly groundbreaking but points yet again to a social reality that no stroke of a political sword has so far resolved, nor is it ever likely to.
Monday — ‘Racial Bias’ In England And Wales Criminal Justice System: A symptom of the bias problem, the MP said, was the mistrust shown by BAME defendants. “They see the system in terms of ‘them and us’ ,” Lammy said. “Many do not trust the promises made to them by their own solicitors, let alone officers in a police station warning them to admit guilt. What begins as a ‘no comment’ interview can quickly become a crown court trial.”
Tuesday — The Myth Of Institutional Racism: There seem to be two things going on. First, there is a harsh objective reality – BAME groups are proportionally more likely than non-BAME people to commit certain crimes, such as robbery, which lead to prison sentences. Second, his review found that BAME people are more likely to plead not guilty than guilty because they do not trust their state-funded solicitors and the advice they give – the result is that they will not benefit from more lenient sentencing when they are convicted.
Wednesday — Call for comprehensive race strategy after Lammy review: The Government must respond to the review urgently and put in place a comprehensive race strategy with stretching targets to reduce the race inequality that is so apparent in our society.
Thursday — The Lammy Report On Race And Crime Is A Backwards Step In The Struggle For A Just Society: It operates on the assumption that, if there are disparities in economic and social outcomes, then this must be the result of discrimination. The report admits that there are other reasons for disparate outcomes – such as lone parenthood. But instead of accepting that its claim of discrimination has been contradicted, it puts out a press release asserting that ethnic minorities face bias, including overt discrimination.
Friday — David Lammy’s Review Bursts The Myth Of A Link Between Race And Crime: Crime and race (and more recently religion with respect to Asian grooming gangs) are often linked together, as though racial group is the key explanation. This is simplistic, insidious and harmful. High arrest rates amongst black people often (but not always) reflect more discriminatory and racist policing practices. In addition, key predictors of crime are more likely to be poverty and poor neighbourhoods.
¹The Lammy Review (pdf): Published in 2017, it is an independent review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the Criminal Justice System.
²Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic disproportionality in the Criminal Justice System in England and Wales’ (pdf): First published 2016, the views expressed are those of the authors and are not necessarily shared by the Ministry of Justice (nor do they represent government policy).
³Criminal Justice v. Racial Justice: Published by Runnymede in January 2012 — The causes of young BAME people’s overrepresentation are complex, reaching down into the very foundations of our society. Social exclusion and inequality is recorded as the primary cause for this failure.
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