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Publications · Sentencing and the law

Race consciousness and the law

Criminal defence practitioners' perspectives

  • ISBN: 978-1-911114-75-8

  • Published: 2023

  • Pages: 11

  • Publisher: The Howard League for Penal Reform


Race consciousness and the law

The widespread adherence by the legal system to the notion that the law should be ‘colourblind’ and ‘race neutral’ is a barrier to eradicating and challenging racist and discriminatory practice.

Race consciousness and the law, a report written by Dr Alexandra Cox of the University of Essex, explores the stark racial and ethnic disparities that exist at all levels of the criminal justice system in England and Wales. It shows how lawyers, who are present at almost every stage of the criminal justice system, are in a unique position to identify and challenge racism, but their knowledge and experience has been under-researched.

The research, conducted with 30 legal practitioners from across England and Wales, found that legal authorities’ demands, both explicit and implied, that lawyers be ‘race neutral’ poses barriers in highlighting or addressing disparities. Practitioners spoke about the opposition they faced in the courts when highlighting the roles that race and ethnicity may have played in key decision-making by legal authorities, particularly the police.   

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