Impact the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Essay
Impact the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry
Discuss the impact the Stephen Lawrence inquiry has had on the Criminal Justice System? This essay will screen through the changes made in major areas of Criminal Justice System after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report published and attempts to address changes that have already implemented, the supposed and actual outcomes, and effectiveness of these changes in tackling institutional racism mainly based on qualitative academic debates. The murder of Stephen Lawrence, a black British teenager, in a racist attack in 1993, resulted in a detailed inquiry published in 1999 outlining the existence of institutional racism and as many as 70 recommended changes in policies regarding how police should communicate with ethnic minority groups such that these people will trust police, as well as the practice of handling hate crime. Adoption of these changes, as well as reaction of criminal justice system towards the crime, seems to be slow.
It is not until January 2012, thirteen years after the inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson concluded, that changes in the Criminal Justice System have finally resulted in two of the five perpetuators successfully sentenced to jail. The various problems in adopting such changes will be reviewed in assessing the overall effectiveness of suggestions made by Sir William Macpherson in the inquiry report. Policing practice is the key area in the report. Institutional racism, as defined by Sir William Macpherson in Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report, is “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour; culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people” (Macpherson, 1999).
It is noted that the Metropolitan Police Force accepted this definition and criticism (House of Commons Home Affair Committee, 2009) despite initial strong reaction from frontline officers (Foster et al, 2005, Foster 2008). In academic setting the acceptance of such definition is disputed, however. While earlier journal articles criticized the definition of institutional racism, and sometimes the whole inquiry report, as flawed and problematic (for example McLaughlin and Murji 1999, Innes 1999, Anthias, 1999), later academic articles and reports focus on monitoring the implementation of suggestions and appreciation of changes suggested in the inquiry report. While the definition of institutional racism is not the focus in assessing the overall effectiveness of Stephen Lawrence Inquiry on criminal justice system, how people react with this definition is crucial, and the initial unwelcoming reaction towards the inquiry report probably explains the significant delay in implementing some of the suggested changes. The other focus area on policing is stop and search power and practices.
In the report Macpherson (1999) recommends more detailed records on stop and search incidents, which requires two copy of records detailing the reason for the search, the findings and action taken, and ethnic identity provided by the person being searched. While one copy is retained by police force, the other copy must be given to the person being searched. The record is simplified to a receipt in 2009 only showing ethnicity of the person being searched and the location, and the full record can now only obtain in person at police station or online (Bennetto 2009, Miller 2010). Bennetto (2009) expressed concern in his report, claiming such change “shift[s] back towards the discredited pre-1995 model”. Such concern is reasonable because it can be seen as tightening of information freedom, which contradicts to what Macpherson hoped to achieve through his suggestion on stop and search records.
No changes are suggested in relation to stop and search power, which the reason is not suggested. Changes in stop and search practices are, however, can be observed, as stated in Miller’s (2010) evaluation. Apart from periodically publishing stop and search records, supervisors and managers of police force are now required to closely monitor such statistics and take timely actions if something wrong is being observed. Also stricter rules on stop and search have since been imposed, along with the requirement of police officers writing a detailed report on spot about every single incident which subjects to review seems helpful in improving police conduct (Fyfe 1979; Skogan and Frydl 2004 in Miller 2010). While stop and search practice has been somehow improved, racial discrimination can still be seen in stop and search statistics. The notion of “Black and minority ethnic groups, particularly black people, have for many years been disproportionately at the receiving end of police stop and search—a fact associated with profound community resentment towards the police” (Bowling and Phillips 2002 in Miller 2010) still largely applies today.
Miller’s (2010) analysis indicate that black people are about 6 times more likely to be stopped and searched, while it is about 2 times more likely for Asians. Similar idea is seen in Bennetto’s (2009) report, which draws on police statistics that shows in 2009 “black people are seven times more likely to be stopped and searched than white”, worse than Miller’s analysis with the most recent figures in 2008. No official explaination is provided by Police, but Bennetto (2009) assumes this may be caused by simply discrimination of police officers against black youths or misunderstanding of black youths as ‘problem seekers’ by police officers that prompts them to carry out stop and search. This can be seen as a weakness in Macpherson report as such issue still exists after related recommendations have been implemented (House of Commons Home Affair Committee, 2009). Another area addressed in policing is the significant underrepresentation of police officers with self-claimed minority ethnic identity.
Macpherson examined this issue with particular focus on employment practices of police force. Although Black Police Associations have existed well before the inquiry report published, it has been viewed as “fragile” (Holdaway and O’Neill, 2006), and Macpherson report have actually overseen this as a tool for promoting recruitment of minority ethnic police officers, particularly black. The result is that police force still faces difficulties in recruiting ethnic minority police officers thus unable to achieve their set targets (House of Commons Home Affair Committee 2009, Foster et al 2005). New recruit training scheme has since been launched, however it is the organizational culture, dominated by racism, that creates the ‘glass ceiling’ of ethnic minority and women police officers which fears such potential applicants off regardless of what the police force attempt to promote in recruitment advertisement (Fielding, 1999).
Legislation and Adjudication is not a focus area in Macpherson report. Macpherson (1999) only suggested current sentencing practices to remain in place, and the abolishment of double jeopardy rule on murder charges due to seriousness of such crime. The abolishment of double jeopardy rule on murder charges seems to have nothing to do with institutional racism; rather, this change, implemented only in 2005, seems only to pave the path for retrial on the murder of Stephen Lawrence, which the police force admits to have been mishandled (Foster et al, 2005). It is a positive move, however, because such change in legislation allows two of the perpetuators to be sentenced to prison and clearly demonstrate how the criminal justice system accept criticism on past mistakes. There are debates on overall effectiveness of the changes suggested in Macpherson report. One claim, as noted in Rowe’s work (2004) and Waddington’s (1999), is that institutional racism is so deeply rooted in police force in which discrimination has actually become a culture, evidenced by female officers and those of ethnic minorities do not receive equal opportunities in promotion.
Innes (1999) also claimed in his work that Macpherson report focus too much on institutional racism and “fails to understand the complexities and subtleties intrinsic to, and constitutive of this particular aspect of police work”, and at the same time “displays a tendency to conflate what are in actuality separate problems of racism and systemic management failures”, thus raising doubts in the overall effectiveness of the suggestions. However, official report in 2009 indicates that the recommendations are being implemented with positive feedback (House of Commons Home Affair Committee, 2009). In recent journal articles, although concerns have been raised as well, there are still acknowledgements of changes being implemented and positive outcomes have been observed (Bennetto 2009, Miller 2010, Rowe 2004).
It can be seen that if all the changes are implemented, institutional racism can be effectively tackled; one cannot expect it to completely diminish, however. To conclude, it is obvious the Criminal Justice System has positively implemented to almost all of the suggested changes in the Macpherson Report. The time taken to implement these changes, however, is considered too long that hate crimes, similar to the murder of Stephen Lawrence, has not been addressed timely before 2005. The limitation of the Macpherson inquiry in the areas of policing, legislation and adjudication practices only leads to issues in correction institutions not properly addressed. However, as the inquiry itself is based on a single unresolved hate crime that occurred 6 years before the inquiry, one cannot expect the inquiry to address every single issue in the criminal justice system.
In fact, the coverage of Macpherson inquiry is so wide that institutional racism has been properly tackled in the past ten years, although still exists today because it has become a culture so deeply rooted in the criminal justice system that complete elimination is virtually impossible. Not all intended effects of the changes can be seen by now, but there is an obvious trend that the criminal justice system has accepted the criticism as institutional racist and moving on the right direction to have things amended. In recent years human right advocacies such as Equality and Human Rights Commission has put an eye on this particular issue and with their consistent lobbying effort, one can expect major progress in eliminating institutional racism from criminal justice system to be successfully achieved in foreseeable future.
Anthias, F (1999) Institutional Racism, Power and Accountability, Sociological Research Online, vol. 4(1). Available from: http://www.socresonline.org.uk/4/lawrence/ /anthias.htm [Accessed November 30, 2012] Bennetto, J. (2009) Police and racism: what has been achieved 10 years after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report? London: Equality and Human Rights Commission. Available from: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/raceinbritain/ policeandracism.pdf [Accessed November 30, 2012] Foster, J. (2008) ‘It might have been incompetent, but it wasn’t racist’: murder detectives’ perceptions of the Lawrence Inquiry and its impact on homicide investigation in London, Policing & Society, Vol. 18(2), pp. 89-112 Foster, J. et al (2005) Assessing the impact of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, London: Home Office. Available from: http://library.npia.police.uk/docs/hors/hors294.pdf [Accessed December 1, 2012] Fielding, N. (1999) Policing’s Dark Secret: The Career Paths of Ethnic Minority Officers, Sociological Research Online, vol. 4(1). Available from: http://www.socresonline.org. uk/4/lawrence/fielding.html [Accessed November 30, 2012] Holdaway, S. (1999) Understanding the Police Investigation of the Murder of Stephen Lawrence: A ‘Mundane Sociological Analysis’, Sociological Research Online, vol. 4(1). Available from: http://www.socresonline.org.uk/4/lawrence/holdaway.html [Accessed November 30, 2012] Holdaway, S. and O’Neill, M. (2006) Ethnicity and culture: thinking about ‘police ethnicity’, British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 57(3), pp. 483-502 House of Commons Home Affair Committee. (2009) The Macpherson Report – Ten Years On, London: Stationery Office. Available from: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/ pa/cm200809/cmselect/cmhaff/427/427.pdf [Accessed November 30, 2012] Innes, M. (1999) Beyond the Macpherson Report: Managing Murder Inquiries in Context, Sociological Research Online, vol. 4(1), available at:
http://www.socresonline.org.uk/ 4/lawrence/innes.html [Accessed November 30, 2012] Miller, J. (2010) Stop and Search in England: A Reformed Tactic or Business as Usual?, British Journal of Criminology, 50, pp. 954-974 Macpherson, Sir William. (1999) The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry, London: HMSO. McLaughlin, E. and Murji, K. (1999) After the Stephen Lawrence Report, Critical Social Policy, Vol. 19(3): 371-385. Murji, K. (2007) Sociological engagements: Institutional racism and beyond, Sociology-the Journal Of The British Sociological Association, Vol.41(5), pp.843-855
Rowe, M. (2004) Policing, Race and Racism, Cullompton, Willan (Chapter 3)
Shiner, M. (2010) Post-Lawrence policing in England and Whales: Guilt Innocence and the Defence of Organizational Ego, British Journal of Criminology, 50, pp. 935-953
Waddington, P (1999) Discretion, ‘Respectability’ and Institutional Police Racism, Sociological Research Online, vol. 4(1), Available from: http://www.socresonline.org.uk/4/ lawrence/waddington.htm [Accessed December 1, 2012]
University/College: University of California
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 16 May 2017
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