Discuss the Impact the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Has Had on the Criminal Justice System

Topics: Sociology, Police, Minority group Pages: 6 (2082 words) Published: March 5, 2013
Discuss the impact the Stephen Lawrence inquiry has had on the Criminal Justice System? This essay will screen through the changes made in major areas of Criminal Justice System after the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry Report published and attempts to address changes that have already implemented, the supposed and actual outcomes, and effectiveness of these changes in tackling institutional racism mainly based on qualitative academic debates. The murder of Stephen Lawrence, a black British teenager, in a racist attack in 1993, resulted in a detailed inquiry published in 1999 outlining the existence of institutional racism and as many as 70 recommended changes in policies regarding how police should communicate with ethnic minority groups such that these people will trust police, as well as the practice of handling hate crime. Adoption of these changes, as well as reaction of criminal justice system towards the crime, seems to be slow. It is not until January 2012, thirteen years after the inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson concluded, that changes in the Criminal Justice System have finally resulted in two of the five perpetuators successfully sentenced to jail. The various problems in adopting such changes will be reviewed in assessing the overall effectiveness of suggestions made by Sir William Macpherson in the inquiry report. Policing practice is the key area in the report. Institutional racism, as defined by Sir William Macpherson in Stephen Lawrence Inquiry report, is “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour; culture, or ethnic origin. It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people” (Macpherson, 1999). It is noted that the Metropolitan Police Force accepted this definition and criticism (House of Commons Home Affair Committee, 2009) despite initial strong reaction from frontline officers (Foster et al, 2005, Foster 2008). In academic setting the acceptance of such definition is disputed, however. While earlier journal articles criticized the definition of institutional racism, and sometimes the whole inquiry report, as flawed and problematic (for example McLaughlin and Murji 1999, Innes 1999, Anthias, 1999), later academic articles and reports focus on monitoring the implementation of suggestions and appreciation of changes suggested in the inquiry report. While the definition of institutional racism is not the focus in assessing the overall effectiveness of Stephen Lawrence Inquiry on criminal justice system, how people react with this definition is crucial, and the initial unwelcoming reaction towards the inquiry report probably explains the significant delay in implementing some of the suggested changes. The other focus area on policing is stop and search power and practices. In the report Macpherson (1999) recommends more detailed records on stop and search incidents, which requires two copy of records detailing the reason for the search, the findings and action taken, and ethnic identity provided by the person being searched. While one copy is retained by police force, the other copy must be given to the person being searched. The record is simplified to a receipt in 2009 only showing ethnicity of the person being searched and the location, and the full record can now only obtain in person at police station or online (Bennetto 2009, Miller 2010). Bennetto (2009) expressed concern in his report, claiming such change “shift[s] back towards the discredited pre-1995 model”. Such concern is reasonable because it can be seen as tightening of information freedom, which contradicts to what Macpherson hoped to achieve through his suggestion on stop and search records. No changes are suggested in relation to stop and search power, which the reason is not...
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