On 30 June 2021, the Howard League for Penal Reform launched Making Black lives matter in the criminal justice system: a guide for antiracist lawyers
, a new practical guide developed in association with Black Protest Legal Support
and in consultation with an expert advisory group. The guide is designed to support lawyers to be antiracist at each phase of a client’s journey through the criminal justice system. It is inspired by two harsh realities that must be addressed: racial discrimination as an enduring feature of criminal justice for Black people; and legal training in England and Wales that does not equip lawyers to be antiracist.
At the launch event, which can be watched on the Howard League’s YouTube channel
, Dr Laura Janes (the Howard League’s legal director and LAG’s chair) and Ife Thompson (lawyer and founder of Black Protest Legal Support) introduced the guide and explained why it was needed. As Thompson put it: ‘This guide gives lawyers the tools to dismantle the normalised anti-Blackness within the system. We must start to do things differently.’ Four members of the advisory group – Dr Abenaa Owusu-Bempah, Aika Stephenson, Garry Green, Naima Sakande – then spoke about each section of the guide and how it related to their own practice or research.
The guide begins with a context section on racialised social structures, which describes the structural disadvantage that Black people experience in housing, healthcare, employment and education. The following sections focus on practical steps for lawyers to counter discrimination at the police station, at court and after court, offering step-by-step advice and case studies. Each section includes the most recent research evidence and statistics, which show that Black people are more likely to experience coercive and punitive policing than any other ethnic group, are subjected to harsher remand and sentencing decisions at court, and continue to receive worse treatment after sentencing.
Overall, the guide empowers lawyers to recognise and effectively challenge discrimination throughout the criminal justice system. It also has implications for other areas of law, including family, housing, education, community care and immigration law, which may benefit for a similar approach.