CPS faces race discrimination claims from its own barristers

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The Independent Online

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) faces five separate claims of race discrimination, including an allegation of victimisation brought by Britain's most senior female Asian prosecutor.

Three of the other claimants are also black or Asian women lawyers, raising concerns that the CPS has made limited progress in combating racism since the former Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) declared five years ago that his organisation was "institutionally racist".

The most serious allegation is made by the Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP) of Gwent who is believed to be on sick leave after she was disciplined over an allegation of bullying made against her by a white employee.

Madhu Rai, a high profile appointment in 2005 by the new DPP, Ken Macdonald QC, is understood to have instructed lawyers to bring race discrimination and victimisation proceedings against the CPS in relation to her treatment by senior management.

An employment tribunal is expected to award record compensation against the CPS next month after a prosecutor was wrongly suspended in the wake of the al-Qa'ida attacks on New York and Washington on 11 September 2001.

A court security guard referred to Asian prosecutor Halima Asis as a "security risk" two weeks after the terrorist atrocity. She was accused of responding: "I'm a friend of Bin Laden's," leading to her suspension from the CPS. Ms Asis won her case after she took her claims to the Court of Appeal in July last year.

In a separate case, also due to be heard in February, a female CPS barrister, Uma Bhardwaj, will bring a claim for race discrimination. She alleges that several white colleagues with less experience were promoted ahead of her and offered more money - an experience that left her feeling "demeaned and undervalued".

At least two other claims and grievances, one by a black female prosecutor and another by a male Irish lawyer, have also been lodged against the CPS.

The CPS declined to say how many allegations of racism it was now facing. A spokeswoman would only say: "These are internal employment matters."

It is understood that Ms Rai was suspended from her post and then reinstated, but only after she appealed over the bullying allegation.

The CPS declined to confirm Ms Rai's status but a statement on the CPS Gwent website says she is on "temporary assignment" at the national headquarters in London, while her job is being performed by someone else.

When she was given the Gwent job in 2005, her appointment was hailed as a significant breakthrough for a female lawyer in an organisation where the top jobs are dominated by men. She has since been tipped as a possible candidate to be the first Asian leader of the CPS.

She told her local paper at the time of her appointment: "I have had to have a lot of perseverance, but if you have a goal and a desire to reach somewhere with determination, you have the ability to get there. There is no substitute for doing well and gaining respect."

Ms Rai completed a law degree in Birmingham before joining a commercial law practice in the late 1980s. She was later recruited to the CPS where she was a senior prosecutor for seven years and, in 2001, she was appointed head of the criminal justice unit in Solihull, in the West Midlands.

Ms Rai, who speaks English, French and Punjabi, and said she was keen to make Welsh her fourth language. She told the South Wales Argus: "I am trying to create a CPS in Gwent that inspires community confidence."

One of her main targets for the year, according to the report, was to ensure persistent offenders face anti-social behaviour orders at court during sentencing hearings.

In 2001, the then DPP, David Calvert-Smith QC, responded to two critical reports by declaring the CPS was institutionally racist. "Without intending to be, our behaviour can, does and has discriminated. Therefore, I unreservedly accept the finding that, as an organisation, the CPS has been, within the Lawrence report definition, institutionally racist."

One of the reports, written by the respected academic Sylvia Denman, found that too many black and Asian people were being prosecuted because of a culture of racism endemic in the service.