28 Jul 2020
Making sure Black lives matter in the criminal justice system – steps towards change
The Howard League for Penal Reform will today (Tuesday 28 July) unveil plans to produce a practical guide to support lawyers to change their practice and tackle discrimination against Black people in the criminal justice system.
In association with Black Protest Legal Support and an expert advisory board, the Howard League is developing a guide for anti-racist lawyers. The document will be aimed at helping practitioners to educate themselves, ask the right questions, gather the right information, and make representations to change outcomes for Black people in the criminal justice system.
The process will begin with a Howard League lawyers’ network event – an online webinar to be held in association with Black Protest Legal Support and Doughty Street Chambers. The panel-led discussion comes at a time when the proportion of children in prison from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds is at the highest level ever recorded. Data obtained by the Howard League shows that in March 2020 two thirds of children remanded to custody were from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds.
Ife Thompson, barrister and founder of Black Protest Legal Support, said: “This year marks the mid-point of the United Nations’ decade for people of African descent, which aims to eradicate social injustices inherited from history and to fight against racism, prejudice and racial discrimination to which people of African descent are still subjected.
“We have seen time and time again how our criminal justice system still has a long way to go to eradicate racism and make sure Black lives matter.
“Unchecked discrimination that runs through our criminal justice needs to be challenged. We need creative legal arguments and lawyers to rise to the challenge, to call out racial bias and counter institutionalised racism.
“I am excited to be part of this project, which brings together a community of practitioners to support anti-racist lawyers to champion this cause and make sure Black lives matter in the criminal justice system.”
Dr Laura Janes, Legal Director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis has reignited long-overdue discussions in the UK about the appalling levels of discrimination in the criminal justice system.
“Almost three years after the Lammy Review exposed the bias that exists in the system, and more than 20 years after the Macpherson Report found ‘institutional racism’ within the police service, the proportion of children in prison from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds has never been higher.
“At the Howard League, we are acutely aware of this problem through the work of our specialist legal service for children and young adults in prison. It is time to work together to see what practical steps can be taken to bring about change.”
The discussion will be chaired by Garry Green, barrister at Doughty Street Chambers. Also on the panel will be Dr Laura Janes, Legal Director at the Howard League for Penal Reform; Patrice Lawrence, an award-winning writer for children and young people; Aika Stephenson, solicitor and founder of Just for Kids Law; and Ife Thompson, community-based activist, writer, barrister and founder of BLAM UK (Black Learning Achievement and Mental Health) and Black Protest Legal Support.
Garry Green, Patrice Lawrence, Aika Stephenson and Ife Thompson are to sit on the advisory board for the guide, along with: Kate Aubrey-Johnson, author and barrister at Garden Court Chambers; Cecila Goodwin, consultant solicitor at Stephensons Solicitors LLP; Abimbola Johnson, barrister at 25 Bedford Row; and Laetitia De Klerck, registered intermediary.
Notes to editors
1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
2. More information about the guide can be found on the Howard League website.
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