High incidents of 'stop and search' by the police against black people and the over-representation of ethnic minorities in penal institutions have been widely reported in the media.
Justice Minister Damian Green has put these and other issues at the top of his agenda as he launches a series of meetings with fellow ministers voluntary community groups to get to the root of the problem. Here, he writes exclusively for The Voice.
OUR CRIMINAL justice system is admired across the globe for its fairness, structure and traditions. It has been taken as a beacon and replicated in dozens of countries around the world. This is not just admiration for the history of our justice system; nations continue to look to us for innovation and expertise.
Recently, I met the New Zealand Courts Minister Chester Burrows. He wanted to learn about how we use restorative justice as a way both to rehabilitate offenders and ease the anxiety suffered by victims.
He was very impressed by the way our criminal justice system worked and how we are working to make it faster and more efficient. Although we are proud of this praise, we must not be blind to our shortcomings. One of the issues that our justice system has struggled with for some time is the perception of unfairness, particularly as a result of the apparent over-representation of some ethnic groups.
One of the complaints that come up frequently is the issue of 'stop and search'. Our own official figures show that a black person is seven times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police than a white person - while an Asian person is just over twice as likely and someone of mixed ethnicity is nearly three times as likely to be stopped and searched by the police. In June this year, 13 per cent of prisoners were of black ethnicity and eight per cent were of Asian ethnicity.
This is a clear over-representation, given that the combined black and Asian ethnicities only make up 10 per cent of the general population. If we want our criminal justice system to continue to be respected around the globe for promoting fairness and equality, we need to understand these issues better.
We need to make sure that everyone who comes into contact with the system, whether victim, defendant or witness, is treated equally, regardless of race or any other irrelevant personal characteristic.
That is why I am launching a series of meetings between justice ministers and voluntary community groups. The first of these meetings will focus specifically on race. We want to tap into the expertise of groups like the Runnymede Trust, Safer London Foundation and the Prison Trust alongside many others, to help get to the root of the problem.
While we have access to data, such as the race and criminal justice statistics which we publish every two years, this will only ever give us part of the picture. By directly engaging with the groups who are affected by these issues, we will be able to understand the detailed problems and work towards a solution.
I don't want a criminal justice system where certain groups of people feel they are being targeted and treated differently. I want a system that is fair, inclusive and impartial, and which represents and serves the whole community.
Damian Green is the Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice and also member of parliament for Ashford.