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Ethnic minority groups found to be treated more harshly than white British defendants in court system: new research finds

Six years on from the landmark Lammy Review (2017) into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) individuals in the Criminal Justice System (CJS) [1], new research reveals compelling evidence that race and ethnicity still play a significant role in remand and sentencing decisions.

The findings, published in a briefing paper on Tuesday 17th January by EQUAL, form part of an Economic and Social Research Council-funded project entitled ‘Ethnic Inequalities in the Criminal Justice System (CJS)’.

The project shows that defendants from ethnic minority groups are treated more harshly than white British defendants in the court system.

Front cover of the Ethnic Inequalities in the Criminal Justice SystemThe work has been led by Dr Kitty Lymperopoulou (Principal Investigator), with support from Dr Patrick Williams (Manchester Metropolitan University, EQUAL advisory member) and Professor Jon Bannister (Manchester Metropolitan University). EQUAL (part of Action for Race Equality), Clinks and the Ministry of Justice have also contributed to this work.

Download the briefing







Dr Kitty Lymperopoulou, Principal Investigator, said:

The findings demonstrate the existence of unwarranted ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system. Ethnic disparities in remand and imprisonment cannot be fully explained by legally relevant defendant and case factors raising concerns about unequal, discriminatory and biased treatment of  people from ethnic minorities by police and the courts.”

Jeremy Crook OBE, Chief Executive of Action for Race Equality, and Vice Chair of EQUAL, said:

We welcome the research findings which, once again, highlight significant systemic race disparities in the criminal justice system. We call on the police, the judiciary (magistrates and judges) and the probation service to examine the data and consider our recommendations as a matter of urgency. There are many complex factors at play in and outside court rooms including negative racial stereotypes, conscious and unconscious bias and variable quality Pre-sentence reports. Implementing the recommendations will help to remove avoidable and damaging race disparities in remand and sentencing.” 

Key findings from the project include:

Key findings from the Ethnic Inequalities in the criminal justice system

  • Defendants from ethnic minority groups are more likely to be sent to Crown Court for trial, to plead not guilty, and to be remanded in custody when they appear in the Crown Court than the White British group.
  • The extent of disproportionality in sentencing varies considerably between ethnic subgroups within the Asian, Black, Mixed and White ethnic groups. 
  • Black Caribbean young males are far more likely to receive a custodial sentence compared to young males from all other ethnic groups.
  • Ethnic disparities in remand and imprisonment remain or become more pronounced after important legal factors affecting these outcomes are taken into account.
  • The likelihood of remand is 60% higher for defendants in the Chinese group, 37% higher for those in the Other White group, between 22% and 26% higher for defendants in the Mixed group and  between 15% and 18% higher for defendants in  Black group compared to the White British group.
  • A custodial sentence is 41% more likely for Chinese defendants, 22% more likely for White and Black African defendants, between 16% and 21% more likely for defendants from Asian groups and between 9% and 19% more likely for defendants in the Black group compared with White British defendants.
  • Ethnic differences in remand and imprisonment net of other factors indicate that even if people from ethnic minority groups share the same demographic, social and case characteristics in courts as the White British, they will not have equal CJS outcomes.
  • Ethnic disparities in sentence length narrow or disappear once legal factors are controlled for, indicating people from ethnic minorities are treated more equally at later stages of the sentencing process.

The briefing also makes a series of recommendations on addressing disparities in remand and custody for policy and practice, including revaluating ‘guidelines and practices’ that have the potential to contribute to harsher sentencing for ethnic groups and changes to the way pre-sentencing reports are produced.


Read more on Action for Race Equality's website.

About the Project

The ‘Ethnic Inequalities in the Criminal Justice System (CJS)’ project has generated new evidence on the extent and drivers of ethnic inequalities at different stages of the CJS. It examines a range of defendant, case and court characteristics to deepen understanding about the factors associated with remand and sentencing outcomes and determine the extent of ethnic disparities independent of other factors associated with these outcomes. The study findings are expected to enable agencies involved in the CJS to develop strategies to address ethnic inequalities in effective and tangible ways.

Dr Kitty Lymperopoulou, is a Research Fellow at the School of Society and Culture at the University of Plymouth and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Department of Sociology at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her research concerns issues relating to ethnicity, inequality, crime and criminal justice.

[1] The Lammy Review 2017 in the UK found evidence of stark ethnic inequalities across all stages of the CJS. From the point of arrest, through prosecution to custodial remand, sentencing and imprisonment, ethnic minority groups were shown to be both disproportionately represented and to experience disproportionately worse outcomes

Interested in this work?

Read the Data Comic, created as part of the Ethnic Inequalities in the Criminal Justice System’ project, to see a visual representation of the project’s key findings on the Administrative Data Research UK’s website.

Visit the Ethnic Inequalities in the Criminal Justice System project homepage here.