Juries and race
Sir: The Government's commitment to an anti-racist criminal justice system has hardly lasted more than a few weeks. No sooner has the ink dried on the official response to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, than the Home Office has restarted its whispering campaign to limit the right of defendants to elect jury trial (report, 3 April).
Such a move would severely undermine the efforts of black defendants to fight one form of institutional racism in the police. This is the tendency - well documented in Home Office and other research - for black people to be "over-charged", only to have the charges against them later reduced or dropped when they plead not guilty and elect for jury trial. It is just this type of charge reduction that lies behind the decision of many defendants, having elected jury trial, to change their plea to guilty.
To seek to limit the right to jury trial will only serve to reinforce the police in their racist charging practices and leave many black defendants vulnerable to unfair convictions before magistrates.
Professor LEE BRIDGES
Director, Legal Research Institute
The University of Warwick