David Lammy MP Discusses Racial Disparity and Improvements Needed in the Criminal Justice System

In our latest interview in the 'In Conversation With' series, David Ormerod QC, Professor of Criminal Justice at University College London, sat down with The Rt Hon David Lammy MP, Shadow Lord Chancellor & Shadow Secretary of State for Justice. You can watch the interview in full here, or read our summary below.

Ormerod speaks to Minister Lammy about his work and experiences within the criminal justice system, first focusing on the Lammy Review, a groundbreaking report on ‘the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the Criminal Justice System’.

Lammy was candid in his view on how the Criminal Justice System and its issues with racial disparity have developed since his 2017 review was published. “I am disappointed that many of the recommendations really have not been taken up as seriously as I had hoped.”

“When I was doing the Review, if you looked at young people in the Criminal Justice System from a black, asian or ethnic minority background, it was 41% at that time. Today, it’s 53%.”

“On every single measure, black young people on remand has gone up hugely, by 11%.”

Minister Lammy’s issue is that the trajectory for offenders has gotten worse and that younger people were committing much more serious crimes, such as drug trafficking and murder. On top of that, he has several concerns:

  • Is the sentencing system really working?
  • Problematic areas in which cameras are not allowed
  • Concerns about the diversity of the judiciary and whether judiciaries are really representative of communities
  • The isolation and vulnerability experienced by ethnic minority women in the Criminal Justice System

Ormerod then turns to the idea of developing Royal Commissions or independent reviews for the Criminal Justice System and whether they would work within the current climate. “An emerging cross-party consensus in that area seems to be going in the wrong direction,” states Minister Lammy. “Clearly, we learn from the pandemic and there’s been an acceleration of technology, which was needed in the court system.”

“I do think in the Criminal Justice System there are problems surrounding equity, and therefore we have to be sensitive about the use of technology, whilst accepting that there are some benefits as well.”

“Our priorities are dealing with the backlog. That doesn’t require a review, it requires resources.”

“We need a court system that’s working and functioning. Obviously, the Government is re-nationalising the probation system. We’ll see if that lands and works effectively, but I do believe in rehabilitation.”

Minister Lammy then turns his attention to several things that need improving. The first is the importance of diversity within the CJS. He compares it to the education sector which “has been prepared to understand its client base.” This includes:

  • Who is in the system?
  • What are their cultural needs?
  • How do we make the most of education for them?

“The Criminal Justice System has to do the same thing, and has not been good enough at doing the same thing.”

Minister Lammy also focuses on legal aid as a function of the Criminal Justice System that needs improving. “We’ve got vast advice deserts across the country. There is no levelling up without access to advice, particularly access to advice in the depths of a serious recession.”

As the interview continues, the conversation turns to the idea of ‘super prisons’ - larger prisons built to replace older ones and deal with increasing offender numbers. However, these aren’t necessarily the answer, as Minister Lammy puts it. “We need prisons that are fit for purpose.”

“I am lucky enough to have visited prisons in countries like Sweden, Finland and Norway and the thing that struck me most was the quality of the education provision and the quality of the training provision that is really as good as you would find in any college in their country.”

This interview covers a wide range of topics, from Minister Lammy’s current issues with the Criminal Justice System and how it can be improved, to how representation for non-white people has changed over time, how the system still has “elements of the systemic racism that we have to overcome as a broader society”, and Minister Lammy’s career as an MP and within law has assisted his work. 

To watch the interview in full, click the video below.