Tackling racial bias and the lack of diversity within the judiciary

A study of racial bias, inclusion and antiracism training focusing on judicial office holders in England and Wales.

Photo shows balancing scales with hands of differing skin colours

With raised public concern about the treatment of ethnic minority communities in the justice system of England and Wales, serious questions are being asked of judges and the judiciary. Despite the disproportionate number of ethnic minority people criminalised by the justice system, new recruits to the predominantly white and privileged sector of the judiciary currently receive little or no formal guidance on racial literacy and antiracism. 

In November 2020, the Judicial Diversity Committee of the Judge's Council launched the 'Judicial Diversity Strategy 2020-2025' to tackle bias and the lack of diversity within the judiciary. 

Our project was created in response to the Judicial Diversity Strategy and is led by researchers from the University of Manchester and a part-time crown court judge who is a training tutor for the Judicial College. It considers how judicial officer holders are trained and how racial bias is tackled in comparative contexts and, drawing on data driven research, aims to make recommendations based on a deep understanding of racism as structural, institutional and interpersonal. This project will go on to encourage research projects rooted in the need for fair and equitable treatment in the justice system.

Black barristers are under-represented in the judiciary, and also report experiencing racism from judges, magistrates and panel members. On top of this, The Lammy Review and the Race at the Bar report both found sentencing outcomes are harsher for many ethnic minority defendants than their white counterparts.

Our project will make recommendations on how to strengthen the aims and objectives of the 5-year plan in the context of enduring institutional racism in the justice system.

Judicial pipelines

The lack of diversity in the judiciary is a problem that starts in schools and colleges because of deep racial and class inequalities that affect educational access and progression. As part of our project, we have spoken to first-year Law students at the University of Manchester who are enrolled on the new 10/10 programme that offers academic and career support for Black undergraduates in the Humanities.

Photo: Sarah Duff

I’d like to be a barrister and work and advocate for people, but I think my big dream is to possibly become a QC or a judge and fix the system from the inside out in any way possible… you can be a voice of reason and an understanding person for other Black people and people of colour.

Sarah Duff / First-year Law Student at the University of Manchester

About the project

This is a Simon Industrial & Professional Fellowship project (2021-22) at the University of Manchester. It will be completed in autumn 2022 with the launch of the report, 'Racial Bias & the Bench'.

Contact us

Please contact Professor Eithne Quinn with any enquiries: eithne.quinn@manchester.ac.uk.