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Having read a colleague’s blog Is justice fair?, I turned my mind to recent media coverage regarding the prosecution rates for rape in England and Wales. Just as a reminder, the coverage concerned the fact that the number of prosecutions is at an all-time low with a fall of 932 or 30.75% with the number of convictions having fallen by 25%. This is coupled with a falling number of cases charged when compared with the year 2015/16. The Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird somewhat ironically, was incensed by these figures and urged the Crown Prosecution Service to change its policy immediately.
I’m always sceptical about the use of statistics, they are just simple facts, manipulated in some way or another to tell a story. Useful to the media and politicians alike they rarely give us an explanation of underlying causes and issues. Dame Vera places the blame squarely on the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and its policy of only pursuing cases that are likely to succeed in court. Now this is the ironic part, as a former Labour member of parliament, a minister and Solicitor General for England and Wales, she would have been party to and indeed helped formalise and set CPS policy and guidelines. The former Labour Government’s propensity to introduce targets and performance indicators for the public services knew no bounds. If its predecessors, the Conservatives were instrumental in introducing and promulgating these management ideals, the Labour government took them to greater heights. Why would we be surprised then that the CPS continue in such a vein? Of course, add in another dimension, that of drastic budget cuts to public services since 2010, the judicial system included, and the pursuit of rationalisation of cases looks even more understandable and if we are less emotional and more clinical about it, absolutely sensible.
My first crown court case involved the theft of a two-bar electric fire. A landlady reported that a previous tenant had, when he moved out, taken the fire with him. As a young probationary constable in 1983, I tracked down the culprit, arrested him and duly charged him with the offence of theft. Some months later I found myself giving evidence at crown court. As was his right at the time, the defendant had elected trial by jury. The judicial system has moved a long way since then. Trial by jury is no longer allowed for such minor offences and of course the police no longer have much say in who is prosecuted and who isn’t certainly when comes to crown court cases. Many of the provisions that were in place at the time protected the rights of defendants and many of these have been diminished, for the most part, in pursuit of the ‘evil three Es’; economy, effectiveness and efficiency. Whilst the rights of defendants have been diminished, so too somewhat unnoticed, have the rights of victims. The lack of prosecution of rape cases is not a phenomenon that stands alone. Other serious cases are also not pursued or dropped in the name of economy or efficiency or effectiveness. If all the cases were pursued, then the courts would grind to a halt such have been the financial cuts over the years. Justice is expensive whichever way you look at it.
My colleague is right in questioning the fairness of a system that seems to favour the powerful, but I would add to it. The pursuit of economy is indicative that the executive is not bothered about justice. To borrow my colleague’s analogy, they want to show that there is an ice cream but the fact that it is cheap, and nasty is irrelevant.
My name is Anita and I graduated with a Criminology degree in 2016. I did have a great time at the University of Northampton. The course was challenging and intense however this meant that it provided me with the opportunity to overcome my barriers and develop myself both academically and personally. I miss going to lectures and seminars, revising for exams and even writing the dissertation. If you are reading this and you are in your third year, you are probably thinking that I am mad but I do miss it. I can’t help it! I can honestly say that going to University was the best decision I ever made and I would love to go back and do a postgraduate course. My advice to all students is enjoy it because time goes by so fast.
Before we start, please stop and think…… What percentage of court judges would you guess are women? How many members of the judiciary are from ethnic minorities?
If your guess is that we have a substancial amount of women and members from ethnic minorities in the judiciary, then this blog post might dissapoint you.
Let’s define the judiciary before we progress any further. The judiciary can be defined as ‘the judges of a country or a state, when they are considered as a group’ (Hornby, 2000, p.700).
The judiciary in the UK is dominated by Oxbridge educated white middle-class men. It is estimated that three quarters of all judges in England and Wales are male and 95% are white (Lieven, 2017). The gender imbalance can be well illustrated by looking at the Supreme Court. There is only one woman among the 12 Justices on the Supreme Court. Lady Hale is the only woman ever to serve on the Court and all of the judges are and have always been white. Only Armenia and Azerbaijan have lower proportions of women in their judiciary than the UK (Lieven, 2017). This is unacceptable in 2018, changes must be made to address this gender imbalance.
In terms of race, as at 1 April 2017, only 7% of court judges were Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (BAME). Of these Asian and Asian British accounted for 3% and the remaining three groups, Black and Black British, Mixed Ethnicity and Other Ethnic Group at around 1% each (Ministry of Justice, 2017).
This shows that judges are not reflective of wider society. This is a significant problem because the public should be confident that the judiciary delivers justice fairly. The lack of diversity means that concerns about the legitimacy and objectivity of judgements may be raised.
There are three main explanations for the continuing lack of diversity. The first explanation is that there are not enough women, BAME people and people from less privileged backgrounds who would be suitable for appointment. However, I would question the validity of this argument. This explanation seems to suggest that women or BAME people might be lacking lacking adequate knowledge or experience. There is no evidence to support this argument.
The second explanation given is that women and BAME candidates do not apply for appointment. However, it could be argued that the issue is more complicated than simply failing to apply. For example, Allen (2009) found that when BAME candidates and solicitors do apply for appointment they are significantly less likely to be successful than white candidates or barristers. This shows that the issue is not the lack of applications received from women or BAME candidates but perhaps the discriminatory recruitment process.
The third explanation is that the key principle governing our appointments to judicial office is merit. Unfortunately, the term ‘merit’ is not defined, but the implication is that achieving merit and diversity are at odds.
In conclusion, the lack of diversity in the judicial system is very concerning and should be addressed as soon as possible. This needs to be done to ensure that our justice system is fair, accessible and efficient. It is in our interest to produce a judiciary of the highest quality that reflects the make-up of our nation. Difference should be valued and not feared.
Allen, A (2009) Barriers to Application for Judicial Appointment Research. London: Judicial Appointments Commission.
Hornby, A.S (2000) Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. 6th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Lieven, N (2017) Increasing judicial diversity. London: Justice.
The Ministry of Justice (2017) Judicial Diversity Statistics 2017. London: MOJ.