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Inquiry into CPS race bias claims

THE COMMISSION for Racial Equality is likely to launch a formal investigation into alleged racism at the Crown Prosecution Service.

The move follows a number of meetings between CRE commissioners and David Calvert-Smith, the Director of Public Prosecutions and new head of the CPS, over the treatment of black and Asian staff.

A CRE spokesman said it was still concerned over the progress being made towards addressing some working practices. Since 1994 not one internal complaint of racism has been resolved in the complainant's favour.

The spokesman said that the CRE's own monitoring of the CPS, which had been conducted over several years, had brought a number of cases to its attention.

The outcome later this month of an employment tribunal case funded by the CRE and launched by Maria Bamieh, a senior crown prosecutor working at the Wood Green office in London, is considered critical to the future of CPS's record on race relations.

The CRE has said that if the CPS loses the case and further criticism was levelled against senior staff it would be the trigger to a formal investigation.

Ms Bamieh has alleged that she was deliberately passed over for promotion and was victimised in her staff appraisal reports. Although she has since been offered pounds 110,000 to settle the case she has decided to press on because the "issues are too important".

In December last year an employment tribunal found in favour of Neeta Amin, another senior crown prosecutor, who alleged victimisation by her superiors.

The CRE said that irrespective of the outcome of the Bamieh case a final decision would be taken next month at a meeting of the "legal committee" of commissioners. If it does decide to proceed with an investigation the CRE has the power to order the disclosure of confidential documents and to subpoena witnesses.

Ms Bamieh said that despite the Amin judgment, which criticised some CPS staff for "misguided racial stereotyping", discrimination and victimisation continued.

She said: "Ethnic minority staff are regularly marked down for minor errors whereas the gross misdemeanours of comparable white staff are ignored. When ethnic minority staff complain they are labelled as trouble-makers. The internal complaints procedure can last anything from a year to 18 months and there has never been an internal finding of discrimination. When complainants go to the tribunal and get judgment against individuals no disciplinary action is taken against them."

A fortnight ago Mr Calvert-Smith, addressing a meeting of ethnic minority lawyers, was accused of condoning racism in the CPS. Responding to the accusation, he said there was a balance that had to be struck between sacking talented lawyers and the morale of the service. "The CPS is not the best-paid organisation and we can ill-afford to lose lawyers of real talent," he said.

Shah Qureshi, a solicitor at the Tower Hamlets Law Centre in east London, said he was shocked by what he had heard: "It seems to me that what you're saying is that the CPS condones racism as long as you are a good lawyer. This is unacceptable."

Mr Calvert-Smith said that no finding of racism had been made against any individual senior member of staff. However, he said that a special equality committee would soon be instituted to look at equal opportunities policy across the service.

He said that while ethnic minority lawyers were not properly represented in the regional offices of the service, they were over-represented at junior levels in London, where 30 per cent of all decisions regarding prosecutions are made by ethnic minority lawyers.