The Criminal Justice System

The Criminal Justice System


Written by: Jenny Bourne

People from ethnic minority backgrounds are effectively discriminated against three times over when it comes to crime and the whole criminal justice system.

They are more likely than white people to be victims of crime; they are likely to receive much harsher penalties than their white counterparts; in terms of employment the legal establishment is almost uniformly white and ethnic minorities are under-represented in both the prison and police services.

Victims of crime

Whereas 25% of the white and black populations are likely to be victims of crime generally, Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshi people are more likely (at 27 and 29%) to be victims of crime. While 0.3% of white people are likely to be victims of racially motivated offences, 2.2% of Black people, 3.7% of Indians and 4.3% of Pakistani / Bangladeshis are likely to be. In other words, a Bangladeshi is fourteen times more likely than a white person to be a victim of a racially motivated offence.

Creating criminals

Right through the system, from a stop on the street to the type of sentence and prison allocation, ethnic minority people are affected by racial bias. In 2001/02 of 714000 stops and searches recorded by the police, 12% were of black people (1.8% of the population), 6% Asian (2.7% of the population). Black people were eight times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people. Compared with the previous year, searches rose 8% for whites, but 30% for black people and 40% for Asians in London. In the rest of England and Wales there was a rise of 6% for black people and 16% rise for Asians.

Figures on the ethnicity of those arrested also show ethnic minorities coming off worst. Arrests of black and Asian people rose in 2000/01 by 5 and 8% while those of white people arrested fell by 2%. Black people were four times more likely to be arrested than white people.

And in those being let off with a caution, while 16% of white people and 17% of Asians were cautioned, only 13% of black people were. When it came to getting bail as opposed to being remanded in custody pending trial, bail was more likely for white offenders (84%) than black (71%).

That so many more black young offenders (than white) plead not guilty in magistrates and crown courts, 33 and 48% respectively (compared to 21 and 30% for whites) suggests that there may well have been a bias earlier on in the system. Certainly acquittal rates go on to suggest this. 58% of Asian young people in magistrates’ courts are acquitted, 59% of blacks and only 41% of whites. This differential is repeated, if less starkly, in crown court acquittals.

Partly as a result of a whole discriminatory system, ethnic minority groups represent a disproportionate percentage of the prison population. In June 2000, ethnic minorities accounted for 19% of the male prison population (12% black, 3% Asian) and 25% of the female prison population (19% black and 1% Asian). According to an academic survey published in December 2002, black people are six times more likely to be sent to prison than whites and more likely to be imprisoned for a first offence. Almost a quarter of the 72416 jail population came from an ethnic minority background with black prisoners accounting for 15% of all prisoners.


Relative to the population, people from minority ethnic backgrounds are under-represented in all grades as employees in the police and prison services and in all senior posts in all criminal justice agencies.

In 2001 not one Law Lord and not one High Court Judge was from an ethnic minority. Just six of the 610 circuit judges (1%) are from an ethnic minority. Just 4.8% of 33000 magistrates are from ethnic minorities and of the 1074 Queen’s Counsels (QCs – senior barristers), only 7 are black and 7 Asian. That is despite the fact that 9% of the 13000 barristers from which QCs are drawn, are from ethnic minority groups.

Given all these facts about discrimination in the system, is it any wonder that of all complaints made against the police in 2000/01, 8% were from black people, 5% from Asians and 2% from other ethnic minority groups?

Related links


Miscarriages of Justice UK

National Civil Rights Movement


The Monitoring Group

Sources: Lord Chancellor's Department, race and the Criminal Justice System (Home Office, 2002); British Crime Survey 2000, Statistics on race and the Criminal Justice System; HM Inspectorate of Probation: Thematic Inspection Report, Ethnic Differences in decisions on young offenders dealt with by the CPOS; Section 95 findings No 1 (2000); Prison Statistics, England and Wales, 2000; Observer, 28 December 2002.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

2 thoughts on “The Criminal Justice System

  1. I live in Hemlington and heard about this attack from friends. I believe this attack was un called for, but why accomadate asylum seekers in areas where you know are rough and them getting attacked is a possibility?

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