30,000 magistrates to take compulsory race attitudes test

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The Independent Online

All 30,000 magistrates in England and Wales are to be tested to discover whether or not they are racist.

All 30,000 magistrates in England and Wales are to be tested to discover whether or not they are racist.

The plan, drawn up with the backing of the Lord Chancellor's Department, is the first to be established to assess the attitudes of any part of the judiciary towards ethnic minorities.

A series of scenarios and statements will be put to the magistrates and they will be asked to comment on them. Their responses will then be assessed. The scenarios include statements such as "all Chinese are law-abiding" and "all Rastafarians use cannabis".

The testing will be undertaken by justices' clerks. During the discussions, any subconscious prejudices will be "coaxed and teased" from those taking part in the session.

Magistrates whose responses indicate they have failed to recognise their own prejudices can be reported to the chairman of their bench. Those who show overt racism will be reported to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who has the power to remove them. The testing will be compulsory. One of the first groups of magistrates to be tested under the scheme, which starts in September, will be the 800 appointed in Kent, which has recently had to deal with an growing number of cases involving asylum-seekers.

The programme will be run by the Judicial Studies Board, which is appointed by the Lord Chancellor's Department to deal with the training of magistrates. It will form part of the Magistrates New Training Initiative, introduced after the inquiry into the murder of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence. Last year, the board published guidance to judges and magistrates on how to address members of ethnic minorities in court and deal with sensitive race issues.