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.

Racial bias and the bench report

Racial bias and the bench
Download the'Racial bias and the bench' report

Our report, Racial bias and the bench: A response to the judicial diversity and inclusion strategy (2020-2025) raises urgent questions about racial attitudes and practices in the justice system in England and Wales. Although the judiciary wields enormous power over individuals, its operations are alarmingly underscrutinised, and one area that has remained largely beyond examination is judicial racial bias. The report draws on a survey of 373 legal professionals.

95% of respondents said that racial bias plays some role in the processes or outcomes of the justice system, and 29% said it played a ‘fundamental role’. A majority of respondents had witnessed one or more judges acting in a racially biased way towards a defendant and in their decision-making.

Racial discrimination by judges is most frequently directed towards Asian and Black people according to the survey, with people from Black communities - lawyers, witnesses, defendants, etc. - by far the most common targets of judicial discrimination. Young Black male defendants were the subgroup most frequently mentioned as targets of judicial bias.

The survey did find that some judges are already acting in ‘antiracist’ ways by being conscious of and knowledgeable about racism, and seeking to mitigate it - however, only a minority of respondents had ever seen a judge act in this way.

Race training is neither compulsory nor provided on a regular basis – only 49% of the respondents who have worked as judicial office holders had received race training in the preceding three years.

Overall, the report suggests that the combination of quantitative and qualitative data presented, substantiated by the kind of reports listed above, amounts to evidence of ‘institutional racism’ in the justice system presided over by judges.

Watch the recording of the report launch

About the project

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.

This project was funded by a Simon Industrial & Professional Fellowship at University of Manchester (2021-22).

Project team

Professor Eithne Quinn, Keir Monteith KC, Professor Andrea L. Dennis, Dr Remi Joseph-Salisbury, Erica Kane, Franklyn Addo, Professor Claire McGourlay, Professor Bridget Byrne, Dr Kerry Pimblott, Dr Adam Danquah.


Selected media coverage of our report.

Endorsements and public statements

The report has been publicly endorsed by the Law Society and Aneela Samrai (Hodge, Jones and Allen Solicitors LLP) and it has been raised in parliament and in select committee meetings.

Lady Chief Justice, Sue Carr

Invited to respond to the Racial Bias and the Bench report by Rachel Hopkins MP during Justice Committee oral evidence, Baroness Carr said 'That is a high-profile report; a lot has been written about it. My response would be equally positive in the sense that I welcome it.'

David Lammy MP, author of The Lammy Review into the treatment of, and outcomes for, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic individuals in the Criminal Justice System

Quoted in Law Society Gazette article, David Lammy said “My review recognised the need for action to combat racism and racial bias in the criminal justice system, but action is well overdue,” said Mr Lammy. “Having met with academics and co-authors from The University of Manchester, I welcome their latest report which adds further evidence and provides feedback directly from members of the legal profession and judiciary.”

“Action to embed compulsory antiracist and racial bias training for all judicial office holders, which is a key recommendation of the report, would encourage a culture shift towards antiracist practice.”

Anneliese Dodds, Chair of Labour Party and Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

“This is an important report highlighting the issue of racial bias in the judiciary system. The next Labour government will make ending structural racial inequalities like these a key mission in government, including with our landmark Race Equality Act. Labour is committed to introducing all outstanding recommendations from the Lammy Review and we will look closely at the recommendations from The University of Manchester report also.”

Contact us

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