Judiciary in England and Wales ‘institutionally racist’, says report

Exclusive: more than half of legal professionals in survey said they saw a judge acting in a racially biased way

The judiciary in England and Wales is “institutionally racist”, with more than half of legal professionals surveyed claiming to have witnessed a judge acting in a racially biased way, according to a report.

The study by the University of Manchester and barrister Keir Monteith KC found judicial discrimination to be directed particularly towards black court users – from lawyers to witnesses to defendants.

A survey of 373 legal professionals found that 56% stated they had witnessed at least one judge acting in a racially biased way towards a defendant, while 52% had witnessed discrimination in judicial decision-making.

Examples ranged from hostility towards black defendants, including the use of the term “you people”, to the imposition of harsher sentences, as previously highlighted by the Lammy report.

The study also criticises the current five-year strategy to boost judicial diversity for failing to mention racial bias or racism.

Prof Leslie Thomas KC, who wrote the report’s foreword, said: “Judges need to sit up and listen, because it is a myth that Lady Justice is blind to colour. Our judiciary as an institution is just as racist as our police forces, our education system and our health service – this is something that cannot be ignored for any longer.”


Since 2020, there has been only one published Judicial Conduct Investigations Office decision in which racism was found against a judge (a magistrate), the report says. It also notes that the Judicial Executive Board has declined to publish a report it commissioned into bullying and racism.

Responses to the survey indicated that racial discrimination by judges was most frequently directed towards Asian and black people, with the latter by far the most affected, and the most frequently mentioned sub-group was young black male defendants.

The findings were not limited to the criminal justice system, with one respondent saying that every black parent they represented was described as “aggressive”.

Prof Eithne Quinn, the report’s academic lead author, said the findings showed “judges often play a role in fuelling and normalising the terrible disparities in our legal system”.

The overwhelming majority (95%) of respondents said that racial bias played some role in the processes and/or outcomes of the justice system.

The report, published on Tuesday, recommends that the lord chief justice should publicly acknowledge the justice system is institutionally racist, and should organise compulsory, ongoing racial bias and anti-racist training for all judges and and overhaul the process of judicial appointments.

Just 1% of the judiciary are black, none of whom sit in the court of appeal, and there has never been a supreme court justice of colour.

Monteith said: “Racism in the justice system has to be acknowledged and fought by those at the highest level, but at the moment there is complete and utter silence – and as a consequence, there is no action to combat racial bias. It is impossible to have diversity and inclusion if the system itself unfairly discriminates.”

The legal professionals (214 of them white) were surveyed in May through distribution of a questionnaire to legal organisations and individuals. The survey was also hosted on a website and highlighted on social media.

Lord Burnett of Maldon, the lord chief justice, said he had been “working hard to deal with problems of the sort that have been identified, where they exist”. He added: “The judiciary will look carefully at this report and take it into account when considering how to focus our efforts in the future. Any incidents of racism, harassment, bullying or discrimination are unacceptable and will be dealt with in accordance with the relevant grievance or conduct procedure.”


Haroon Siddique Legal affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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