Report assesses the effectiveness of the law as a tool for addressing racial injustice in the UK
A new piece of research has examined how civil society organisations (CSOs) – and the lawyers who work in and for them – have used legal action to challenge racial injustice and bring about wider social change in the UK since 1990. The resulting report, The pursuit of racial justice through legal action
(November 2021), is the first such overview of this issue. It was commissioned and published by The Baring Foundation
, an independent grant-making foundation with an interest in law and social change, and researched and written by Dr Bharat Malkani, an academic at Cardiff University.
Overall, Dr Malkani concluded that the law can be a powerful tool for CSOs and their lawyers fighting racial injustice. However, he found that they have sometimes struggled to use it effectively for a range of reasons, including, but not limited to, the constraints of the legal framework, a lack of resources (including cuts to legal aid) and the inability of the legal system on its own to be a panacea for systemic racism in society.
The report also highlights:
•the value of informal legal processes, such as using the language of the law to persuade organisations and service providers to end racially discriminatory practices, which can save time and money and avoid the emotional stress often associated with an adversarial process;
•the importance of providing a holistic service to victims of racism beyond just legal support – incidents of racial injustice can have a ripple effect across people’s lives that extends far beyond the incident in question; and
•the need for CSOs and lawyers contemplating legal action to challenge racial injustices to reflect on what it means to be ‘anti-racist’ and whether their own prejudices could affect the efficacy of legal action – in particular, the report notes the importance of understanding that even race-neutral laws can have a racially disproportionate impact.