The first instinct of many people towards Tendayi Achiume, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights who finished her 11 day visit to Britain yesterday by claiming that Britain is in the grip of a Brexit-related upsurge in racial intolerance and discrimination, will be to tell her to keep her nose out of our affairs. I am not going to fall into the trap of offering material which could be used to try to prove her point.
So let me just repeat, as I wrote here on the day she arrived, that I am delighted she has chosen Britain for one of her first visits since her appointment last September – the second visit to Britain by a UN special rapporteur on human rights in 25 years – and I hope she follows it up swiftly with visits to the world’s other 200 nations, many of which have yet to receive their first such attention. It does seem a little peculiar that UN special rapporteurs seem to make a regular habit of visiting developed countries – Australia, Germany, Italy, US, Japan, Spain and France among them. Meanwhile, they have only managed to visit China, India, Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, and have found time for just two African nations, Mauritania and Ivory Coast, on their itinerary. Perhaps this is something which Achiume, who hails from Zambia, might like to put right.
But for the moment, let’s just deal with some of Achiume’s conclusions in detail:
She says: “I am shocked by the criminalisation of young people from ethnic minorities, especially young black men. Citing the Lammy Review, she states that ethnic minorities are treated disproportionately: “at every stage in the criminal justice process”. This does not fit with David Lammy’s findings. After analysing 390,000 jury decisions he found that conviction rates were consistent around the 66 per cent – 68 per cent mark for all ethnic groups. He found higher conviction rates for BAME defendants in magistrates’ courts but only for adults, not children. On sentencing, he found that BAME offenders were more likely to receive prison sentences for drugs’ offences, but not for acquisitive violence and sexual offences.
As for the decision whether or not to charge suspected criminals, Lammy found that BAME suspects are slightly less likely to be charged by the Crown Prosecution Service than are white ones. What he did find was that black defendants are less likely to plead guilty when charged than are white defendants. But then this is the decision of the defendant, so is hard to claim it is the result of discrimination.
Achiume says that young black men are “over-represented in police stop and searches”. On raw figures this is true. However, if she had studied all the evidence to hand she would have heard of the report revealed by Alasdair Palmer, Theresa May’s former speechwriter, which revealed that young black men are not disproportionately stopped when you take into account who is on the streets when police are doing the stopping and searching.
Achiume says she is shocked that young black men “are over-represented in the prison system”. Given that she holds an academic position in Los Angeles, it is hard to understand why she should be shocked by this. It is true that black men are statistically more likely to be in jail in Britain than are white people – they make up 3 per cent of the population but 12 per cent of the general population (although a similar disparity exists in the US where the figures are 13 per cent and 40 per cent respectively). Yet the disparity cannot even nearly be explained by differences in conviction rates, sentencing or charging rates, so Achiume will have to look elsewhere for an explanation – whether that be differences in socio-economic background, different age profiles, cultural attitudes towards crime or whatever.