In yet another example of his statesmanship, David Lammy has taken a defiant stand against institutional racism and also, apparently, logic. In his report (now becoming known as “The Lammy Review”) examining Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals within the criminal justice system, Lammy has launched an unwelcome and potentially dangerous attack upon one of our oldest, fairest and most important civil institutions.
Given his reaction to Brexit, we might well have been forgiven for assuming that he had nothing but contempt for our constitution, but this report takes the issue to new heights, and arguably far more serious ones. The issues confronted, which are little to do with skin colour, and everything to do with socioeconomic history and circumstances, have been exploited for yet more shameful political manoeuvring from Labour’s benches.
English Common Law is under attack
One of the foremost traditions of British criminal justice is that of equality before the law. This has been the case since the middle ages, with the name ‘common law’ referring to the fact that the law was common to all; whether a lord or peasant, the same crime was judged and punished in the same way. This law, which we have inherited, is in principle a reserved and indiscriminate law. It settles disputes from an objective standpoint, stays out of matters which do not concern it, and punishes only those who pose a threat to the communities that it was created to protect. In recent years, this organic nature of the law has come to be increasingly disregarded. As even certain types of ‘speech’ have become criminalised, the law has begun to stray into matters which it should never have had any business with, and what was once an independent constitutional and protective entity has become a political tool. It has not yet fully lost that spirit which has defined it for centuries, but the Lammy Report lays out the terms and conditions for the final coup-de-grâce.
The Problem is Social, not Racial
The Lammy Review found various facts, perhaps the most striking being that BAMEs, 25% of the prison population of England and Wales and 41% of the youth justice system, whilst comprising only 14% of the general population. First offenders comprise 19% of these, up from 11% ten years ago, and a similar increase in the number of reoffenders. What Lammy is quite correct on is that the government should by no means be happy with these figures, nor can we claim that there is no problem to be addressed. However, the problem is not, as the Lammy Review would like us to think, one of race.
The Lammy Review concedes that part of the problem is trust. More BAMEs than whites plead not-guilty against the advice of their lawyers, and many were found to distrust the entire system in the belief that it is institutionally biased against them. Professor Swaran Singh, a psychiatrist and fellow of the University of Warwick, has argued that accusations from pressure groups and swiftly-reached conclusions from various investigations have created a self-fulfilling prophecy within the minds of many BAMEs, where the false belief of institutional racism leads individuals to rash actions which jeopardise their chances of more beneficial treatment. He has also pointed out that the BAME population is more predisposed to mental health issues than the white population. High levels of family breakdown, substance abuse and poverty are most likely to blame for this.
Herein lies the rub. It has been the unfortunate course of fate that many BAMEs are affected by the three killer issues above, and we partly have the government to blame for failing to address these social and economic issues. The answer is not to reform the justice system so that it acts more ‘kindly’ towards BAME criminals, but to reduce the factors which spur on this percentage of BAMEs (and those of other social groups, of course) towards crime in the first place.
Lammy’s Logic is Flawed, his Intentions Malign
Lammy’s conclusions reek of a man who has discovered information which tells him precisely what he didn’t want to find out. They fall neatly into the post hoc fallacy which defies all logic. For Lammy to say that because a higher percentage of BAMEs are in the criminal justice system, it is therefore racist, is akin to saying that because a man drives a car he is therefore the cause of all road accidents. The issue is a non sequitur.
We are all aware of the role that each and every one of us has to play in society. Nobody wants race-based discrimination, and we have worked hard to ensure that our system (which was designed not to discriminate in the first place) continues to function as it should. To accuse the system of bias in this way and to demand change without tackling the true root causes of these problems is not just kicking the can down the road, it is destroying the bin into which we would have to throw the can at the end of it. Destroy our justice system with false accusations, and true justice will never be achieved. Ever.