HC Deb 17 December 1992 vol 216 cc348-9W
Mr. Boateng

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (1) when the Lord Chancellor received a copy of the Commission for Racial Equality's research into discrimination and judicial sentencing in the midlands; and if he will make a statement;

(2) what plans the Lord Chancellor has to meet the chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality;

(3) what guidance the Lord Chancellor has issued to judges on race relations and sentencing policy.

Mr. John M. Taylor

The chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality wrote to the Lord Chancellor on 9 December, enclosing a copy of the summary of the research study "Race and Sentencing in the Crown Court". The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice, in responding to the publication of the research, recognised the seriousness of the matters raised.

The Lord Chancellor agreed, in principle, earlier this year that there should be a regular annual meeting between our Department and the Commission for Racial Equality. The first of these meetings, which both the Lord Chancellor and I will attend, is to be on 25 January 1993.

The Lord Chancellor has issued no guidance to the judiciary on race relations and sentencing, nor is it his role to do so. A session on ethnic awareness is now a feature of every Judicial Studies Board course. Those present are given advice on how to handle issues which often arise when members of the ethnic minorities appear in court.

The board has also commission a consultant to produce an improved module for the board's existing criminal refresher seminars for judges and recorders. In addition, the Home Secretary published, in September, the booklet "Race and the Criminal Justice System", under section 95 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991, to facilitate the performance by people engaged in the administration of criminal justice of their duty to avoid discriminating against any person on grounds of race or sex or any other improper ground. Copies have been sent to all judges and Crown court recorders.

The sentence in any case is entirely a matter for the trial judge, within the statutory limits laid down by Parliament. General questions of sentencing policy are for the Court of Appeal, criminal division, which from time to time issues guidelines to the judiciary in particular types of case.

Ms. Abbott

To ask the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department what action the Lord Chancellor will take via the Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct to prevent racial discrimination at the Council of Legal Education; how many complaints on this subject he or the committee has received; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. John M. Taylor

The Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Legal Education and Conduct has a duty under the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 to have regard to the desirability of equal opportunity when fulfilling its duty of advising the Lord Chancellor on legal education and training. The independence of the committee precludes the Lord Chancellor from directing how it should discharge this duty. The advisory committee has received l4 representations concerning the allegations of racial discrimination in this year's Bar vocational examination, and the Lord Chancellor has received two.

As part of its statutory duties, the advisory committee on 25 November 1992 launched a major review of legal education and training, which will address this question among others. The Council for Legal Education intends to conduct its own review of its admission and assessment procedures, with the assistance of the Commission for Racial Equality, and hopes to publish the results early in the new year.

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