BARAC UK is a founding organisation of BAME Lawyers for Justice.
BAME Lawyers 4 Justice Response to Parliaments Joint Committee on Human Rights Report Black people, Racism and Human Rights.
Saturday, 14 November 2020
We welcome the Black People, Racism and Human Rights report published on the 11th November 2020 by Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights
The Committee polled Black people in the UK to assess their views on the issues highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. The report focuses on four areas; health, criminal justice, nationality and immigration and democracy.
The report makes several damning findings and critical recommendations, all of which we consider to be important in seeking to restore trust and confidence of the Black communities in the rule of law. Access to equality and equal rights is a fundamental for all citizens. The fact that a large proportion of our society continue to live with racism and discrimination and be treated as unequal citizens is no longer a tolerable situation.
The report points to fundamental breaches of the social contract between citizen and State which is essential for any multicultural functioning democracy. Severe violations of Black people's human rights cited in this report provide a vivid illustration of the extent to which Black British people’s human rights are disregarded and abused. These human rights abuses take place despite Government being aware of these serious issues as evidenced by
legal commentary, academic reports and government inquiries, all of which demonstrate increasing rates of racial inequality, injustice and oppression.
Whilst the report is welcome, we do not feel it goes far enough in its recommendations.
For example, the Committee fails to recommend to government that it should sign up to the general prohibition of discrimination outlined in Protocol 12, Article 1 the European Convention of Human Rights. (ECHR). Doing so would provide a strong indication of the Government's commitment to tackling the systemic and institutionalised racial discrimination. Signing this important protocol would also n strengthen domestic race equality and human rights legislation thereby improving trust and confidence of Black communities.
The report also fails to reference this Government's failure to acknowledge or institute a programme celebrating and contributing towards the UN's International Decade for People of African descent, (2014 -2024)
Citizenship, human rights and the rule of law.
Fundamental to a sense of shared citizenship is a confidence in the equal application of the rule of law. This report highlights the reality that the majority of Black people do not believe that they are equally valued as citizens of the United Kingdom, nor do they think that they are treated equally before the law. This is informed by strong evidence from legal practice and academic research and validates the belief that Britain remains a deeply racist society where the colour of one's skin is more important than commitment to one's country.
The generally accepted principle and basis of the social contract between Government and the British Black community has been breached by a failure of the Government to acknowledge and take action to address systemic institutional racism. The consequences of these failures are profound and erode the very basis of the idea that Britain is a modern, multicultural, meritocratic and inclusive democracy.
There is a fragile balance between democracy, protection and obedience to the State. Failure to tackle racism presents an existential threat to our civil condition. The State can no longer credibly demand Black communities' obedience to the law whilst only offering partial protection against the degrading effects of institutionalised racism, injustice and racial disadvantage.
As a result, the State not only loses its authority, representative democracy ceases to have credibility in the eyes of those who are denied access to justice and equality.
The report's finding that over 75% of black people in the UK do not believe that human rights are equally protected is a chilling statistic that bears witness to the reality that black people in the United Kingdom are third-class citizens living within a supposedly "first-class democracy".
We concur with the Committee's analysis on this issue and subsequent recommendation "This is a damning indictment of our society and must be addressed as a matter of the highest political priority. To this end, the Equality and Human Rights Commission must undertake to run an annual opinion survey…"
We welcome the Committee's undertaking to ensure that they hear from a diverse range of witnesses in their deliberations. Black Asian and Minority ethnic Lawyers will assist the Committee by helping to facilitate input and evidence from a broad delegation from British Black communities.
We further agree that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has failed to provide adequate leadership or be effective or gain the trust of British Black communities in both tackling racial inequality and protecting black people's human rights. The recent appointment of Prof David Goodheart as an EHRC Commissioner a man whose on record of denying the existence and reality of institutional racism is a serious and deliberate provocation by Government and will simply further damage Black public confidence in the institution.
The Committee's recommendation that a new Commission of Racial Equality (CRE) and the creation of local Race Equality councils should be established enjoys our support. All available evidence demonstrates that the racial inequality gap has widened since the demise of the CRE. The morphing of the CRE into the EHRC has failed.
We also urge the Committee to recommend that Parliamentary select committees conduct race equality impact assessments in all aspects of their work, and in particular, where known racial and ethnic disparities and injustices exist.
The Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities mentioned in the report and chaired by Dr Tony Sewell (someone else who is also on public record as having challenged the very idea of institutionalised racism) and set up by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in response to the Black Lives Matter protests, lacks credibility. We anticipate its findings will not, given the views of its chairman, enjoy the confidence of Britain's black communities and are unlikely to make any strategically relevant or meaningful findings.
We support the idea of the need for a comprehensive cross Government race equality strategy to improve the collection of data on racial equality but any cross-Government initiatives, must include representation from affected communities of different perspectives.
One of the most significant areas of fundamental human rights breaches occurs in health. The Committee’s notes that "78% of black women and 47% of black men do not believe that their health is equally protected by the NHS when compared to white people".
Death in childbirth provides a profound and tragic indicator of the realities of cumulative effects of systemic and institutionalised racism on black communities.
The Committee finds that seven in 100,000 white women, 13 in 100,000 Asian women, 23 in 100,000 mixed ethnicity women and 38 in 100,000 black women die in childbirth. The fact that there remains no significant government action regarding this issue is an appalling indictment. What it tells British black communities is that the Government views black women's lives as of no significant value. Had white women died in similar numbers, this would be a national scandal.
The Committee’s recommendation that the NHS must set a target to end the maternal mortality gap is of critical importance and work must begin on this immediately.
We believe that the number of unnecessary deaths of black infants' is an issue that was deserving of recognition in this report. Black Caribbean and Black African infant mortality are recorded as 6.6 and 6.3 deaths per 1000 live births. These are the second and third highest ethnic minority into mortality rates behind that of Pakistani babies that die at a rate of 6.7 per hundred live the births. In contrast, white British babies have an infant mortality rate of 3.3 deaths per 1000 live births.
There can be no greater condemnation of any society that the ethnicity of its children should determine their life expectancy at the point of birth.
The Committee quotes Public Health England statistics which show the disproportionate and severe impact of Covid19 on Black communities stating that "after accounting for the effect of sex, age, deprivation and region, black people of Caribbean and other black ethnicities had between 10 and 50% higher risk of death when compared to white British people."
That Government and the National Health Service appear to have no substantive response to the increased vulnerability of Black communities to Covid-19 is further evidence of the extent of neglect.
That the Government has recently announced that any new vaccine will be applied to a list of priority groups that does not include vulnerable BAME communities must be revisited immediately based on the evidence.
The continued criminalisation of the British Black community through the process of racial profiling in policing and immigration and the effects of systemic, institutionalised racism has dramatically increased in the last 20 years. The Committee's report states of all the " issues covered in this polling this... [was the one area] where there was greatest consensus...’.
85% of Black people not being confident that they would be treated the same as a white person by the police."
This was particularly true for young Black people between 10 and 17 years old who only make up 4 per cent of the population but make up 33% of children remanded in youth custody. The Committee states "the number of children in youth custody from a Black background has increased 6% in the last year, and now accounts for 28% of the youth custody population".
The Lammy Review commissioned by David Cameron's Government in 2016 to look into racism within the criminal justice system identified profound ethnic disparities in criminal justice administration, processing and sentencing. The review made 35 key recommendations of which only six, according to the report's author David Lammy MP, have been implemented.
There is a profound crisis of confidence between British Black communities and police services in England and Wales. Public confidence surveys conducted by regional Police services including the Metropolitan Police Service have shown a catastrophic drop in the level of public confidence in policing. It is this area that we believe will act as a catalyst for wider civil disturbance if radical action is not taken to begin to address growing tensions between Black communities and the police.
Key to this, in addition to implementing the Lammy Review's recommendations, is addressing critical issues such as stop and search and the disproportionate number of black deaths in police, prison and immigration service custody. We agree with the Committee's recommendations to governments to establish an Article "right to life" Commissioner and Human Rights compliance unit to ensure investigative support to the victims' families and also ensure that critical recommendations for action are implemented to prevent future unnecessary deaths.
The recommendations from the Lammy Review and the Angiolini Review must be acted upon with urgency. We welcome the recent ruling by the Supreme Court that has determined that Inquest juries’ inquiries into sudden deaths, in seeking to determine where
responsibility lies, should not now rely on the legal principle of ‘beyond reasonable doubt but should instead rely on ‘the balance of probabilities.”
Nationality and immigration.
We believe a culture of racism is implicit in British immigration policy and practice. The Windrush scandal provides a powerful spotlight on the serial injustice faced by many Black British citizens in seeking to access their citizenship rights. But people were unlawfully detained and deported because of the Government's "hostile environment" in direct breach of their right to liberty contained in article 5 of the ECHR.
There can be no more egregious example of the extent to which Black people are subject to racial injustice. Wendy Williams, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary Windrush Lessons Learned Review into the scandal published in March 2020, found that "failings demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation within the Department, which are consistent with some elements of the definition of institutionalised racism." We believe that the failings identified are entirely consistent with the definition of institutionalised racism and can be categorised as such beyond all reasonable doubt. Williams found that the effects of the Windrush scandal was to inflict serious harm on its victims.
We agree with Windrush victims who wrote to the Guardian on 14 October stating that the Home Office’s improvement plan published on 30 September 2020 is "long on regrets but short on specifics of how and when appropriate changes will be made."
The Government's compensation scheme is failing the victims and is in total disarray, adding serious insult to grievous injury. Government’s decision to set the threshold of evidential requirements for eligibility for compensation as "beyond a reasonable doubt" is an insurmountable obstacle for the majority of Windrush victims in claiming compensation. This wilful and malicious action by British Government provides powerful insight into the extent to which British Black communities are now treated with utter contempt by our Government.
We believe the Government should be subject to a motion of censure in both the Houses of Parliament and the House of Lords condemning its failure to deliver on its promises to ensure that justice was delivered to all Windrush victims.
To restore trust and confidence within Black communities that this process is authentic and meaningful, we believe that the Government should provide a sum of £200 million to be given to an independent body. That body could then adjudicate and administer the process of compensation and reparation to Windrush victims and end the ongoing scandal that has seen victims sadly die whilst waiting for justice.
We are also concerned that polices and legislation governing deportation, family reunion, asylum and the fees structure for applying for immigration status documentation, need to be reviewed as a matter of urgency as these disproportionately affect and impact on the lives of the UK’s Black and ethnic minority population in an adverse way.
Without immediate and substantive action to address the growth in racial inequality as a consequence of systemic, institutionalised racism and in the absence of Government, action to fundamentally address human rights abuses experienced by Black British people, we believe there could be increased racial divisiveness, a breakdown in respect for and adherence for the law and government institutions.
The consequences of allowing Black British communities to continue to suffer such egregious abuses of our human rights will be civil disorder in our major inner cities and a breakdown in law and order. It is incumbent upon Government to recognise the realities of systemic institutionalised racism as it manifests itself in the fundamental abuses of the human rights of British Black communities, and to take urgent action now to avoid, what would be a national catastrophe.
We will be contacting the Joint Committee to facilitate a delegation presentation from a broad range of national Black organisation and expert individuals that can assist in contributing to this important debate in an effort to support the work of the Committee and further highlight these issues.