Three judges sue Ministry of Justice for race discrimination

Cases add to pressure on MoJ, which recently rejected recommendations to set diversity targets in the judiciary

Three judges from black and Asian backgrounds are suing the Ministry of Justice for race discrimination and victimisation, the Guardian has learned.

Recorder Peter Herbert, one of the group bringing employment tribunal cases, has been involved in a long-running case against the ministry over a speech he made saying that racism could be found in the judiciary. He lodged proceedings this week.

The cases put further pressure on the MoJ shortly after it refused to accept a recommendation from a report written at the request of the prime minister to set diversity targets in the judiciary.

The MoJ has agreed to carry forward most of the recommendations in David Lammy’s report on the variation in treatment and outcomes for those from black and minority ethnic communities in the justice system. But the Labour politician said he was “disappointed” the decision on representation in the judiciary.

According to the MoJ, just 7% of court judges are from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds (Bame) and 10% of tribunal judges.

Herbert’s dispute relates to a speech he made at a rally in Stepney, east London, in April 2015. He commented negatively about the decision to bar Lutfur Rahman, the former mayor of Tower Hamlets, from holding public office for five years and claimed that racism was present in parts of the judiciary.

Herbert said in the speech: “Racism is alive and well and living in Tower Hamlets, in Westminster and, yes, sometimes in the judiciary.”

The second case relates to a retired immigration judge of African origin who is bringing a claim in the employment tribunal based on victimisation, discriminatory remarks and unfair distribution of work.

The third case is brought by a district judge of Asian origin, who was sitting as a social security panel chair when a complaint was made about him for repetitious and oppressive questioning.

The complaint was treated as a misconduct matter, though the allegations of misconduct were withdrawn after he lodged proceedings in the employment tribunal alleging race discrimination.

He said he had not received an apology for treatment that he described as distressing.

A fourth case has been lodged in the employment tribunal over a lay tribunal member, Daniel Ibekwe of African origin. He was dismissed when he was sitting at Croydon employment tribunal.

Ibekwe claims he was treated less favourably because of his race and victimised for making allegations of discrimination.

Ismet Rawat, president of the Association of Muslim Lawyers, expressed concern about these cases: “We are aware of a number of BME judges and magistrates that have suffered discriminatory use of misconduct proceedings in circumstances where their white counterparts have not faced any action whatsoever,” she said.

Lee Jasper, co-chair of Black Activists Rising Against the Cuts, said: “The British criminal justice system is locked into a 19th-century vision of the world as a consequence of its inherent class and racial bias.

“The judiciary and Ministry of Justice claim to be committed to equality while simultaneously discriminating against black people in the dock or on the bench.”

Others say diversity among the judiciary is improving, albeit slowly. At a press conference this month, the new lord chief justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, pointed out that since 2010, the proportion of women judges had risen from 21% to 28%.

Those from non-white backgrounds, however, made up only 7% of court judges, Burnett acknowledged. The ethnic minority proportion of the UK population is estimated to be about 14%.

Burnett remarked at the time that the overall proportion in the population was not “really the appropriate comparator”. Instead, he suggested, “you really need to look at the proportion of non-white people in the legal profession and, perhaps, more generally in the working population within the age cohorts where most judges sit.”

A spokesman for the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office, said it did not comment on ongoing legal proceedings.


Diane Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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