The Lawrence Report: Sir William Macpherson's Recommendations

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The Independent Online
THE SEVENTY recommendations of the report form nothing less than a blueprint for the eradication of racism in the British criminal justice system.

Sir William Macpherson and his team make clear that confidence in the police among minority ethnic communities is now at such a "low ebb" that "it threatens the ability of the police services to police by consent in all areas of their work, not simply in the policing of racist incidents and crimes".

In strong language, Sir William warns the Government and police chiefs that "nothing less" will satisfy him than that "the opportunity for radical thinking and root-and-branch action is seized".

He calls for the police to be made subject to the "full force" of race relations legislation, meaning that police chiefs would be "vicariously liable for the acts and omissions of their officers".

The Freedom of Information Act should also apply to the police, he says, meaning that the public could obtain police documents including the reports of investigating officers into public complaints, unless their disclosure would cause "substantial harm" to the public interest.

The police, and the Metropolitan Police in particular, should be subject to more rigorous inspection involving lay inspectors. A new Metropolitan Police Authority, similar to the authorities that exist in other police areas, should be set up with powers to appoint all senior officers.

Sir William also attempts to tackle the root causes of racism by calling for an amendment to the national curriculum "aimed at valuing cultural diversity and preventing racism, in order better to reflect the needs of a diverse society".

His report calls for the publication of school league tables that show the number of racist incidents and the numbers of children excluded, by ethnic group.

Sir William's far-reaching proposals are partly based on a broad definition of a racist incident as "any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person" and are intended to identify and eliminate racism in the police, the legal system and the classroom.

Sir William's primary recommendation is that the Government should acknowledge the magnitude of the problem of police discrimination by establishing a "ministerial priority" that would pledge "to increase trust and confidence in policing amongst minority ethnic communities".

He calls for a new approach to the prosecution of racist crime whereby the Crown Prosecution Service should assume that it is always in the public interest to prosecute such offences. Where race is an element in a prosecution it should be made known at all stages of the case and should never be excluded through "plea bargaining". All racist language or behaviour might be considered as a crime under an amendment to existing legislation, Sir William suggests.

He also calls for the possession of offensive weapons - as seen in the secret surveillance video of the Lawrence suspects - to be made an offence, even if it occurs in a private place.

Sir William would like to see sweeping changes introduced for the disciplining of racist police officers. He recommends that any racist words or acts by an officer, which are proven, should "usually merit dismissal". He also calls for complaints of police racism to be investigated independently and that officers should be subject to possible disciplinary action for at least five years after retirement.

Sir William states: "Investigation of police officers by their own or another police service is widely regarded as unjust, and does not inspire public confidence."

The report identifies stop-and-search by the police as a key area of concern and recommends that traffic stops be included in future statistics on the subject as they are also often seen as discriminatory by minority ethnic communities.

Sir William believes that the inadequacies in police racial awareness training identified in his report mean that all police staff, including civilians, must be "trained in racism awareness and valuing cultural diversity".

The failure of officers to administer first aid at the murder scene inspired Sir William to insist that such training for all "public contact" officers should be reviewed and revised to "ensure that they have basic skills to apply first aid".

The report's other recommendations include a new Home Office code of practice for recording racist crimes, new initiatives to recruit and retain police officers from minority ethnic communities, and improved police systems for the handling of witnesses, victims and their families.

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