Interview with Rt Hon David Lammy MP
We are excited to welcome Rt Hon David Lammy MP, Member of Parliament for Tottenham, to answer a few questions on the future for UK Justice.
David, what do you think are the most significant challenges facing the UK Criminal Justice System at present?
In doing my review, I visited prisons, courts and all aspects of the criminal justice system. The truth is that morale is at an incredibly low ebb, at all levels. It has happened because of serious cuts and austerity, which has particularly affected prisons. You can see the effects of this real time in prisons like Birmingham, where riots in 2016 continue to undermine staff confidence. This leads to very serious issues of drugs, gangs and organised crime in the very places that are intended for rehabilitation. Moreover, insufficient prison staff numbers has held up prison reform. As I found in my review, the reforms in probation have not worked. Morale is also very low in the magistrates’ courts, which play a crucial role in the system.
With this in mind, what can justice organisations do to overcome these challenges?
This is a huge question. I made 35 recommendations in my review, which I invite justice organisations to consider. I ask them to get behind those recommendations which they feel they are most able to influence. Justice organisations can play a vital role in pressuring government to change its approach to the prison system – it simply requires a focussed and precise approach to achievable goals.
One year on since the Lammy Review was published. What have been the developments since then?
The government responded to my review in December, largely accepting my recommendations, which I was very pleased about. Specifically the Government has adopted “explain or change” as an approach to identify and objectively assess disparities, and then decide whether and how changes need to be applied.
There have been some ministerial changes, during the turbulent past two years in British politics, but I met with the current Minister, Rory Stewart, and he was committed to honouring my recommendations. The prisons system itself has set up several working groups to implement them also. So overall I confident that the Review will deliver constructive outcomes.
The Public Health Approach versus the Criminal Justice Approach: Where do you stand in this dichotomy?
I think that the public health approach is fundamental. There are a lot of people in our prison system with mental health issues; many others have drug and alcohol issues, and there is a lot of trauma as a result of drug and gang violence. The social media trend among young people is clearly impacting on their well-being and in many cases facilitating or encouraging crime. All of this would suggest that the way to deal with this is the public health approach. It has been a success in cities like Glasgow, so we should do more to follow their lead.
Following the war on drugs increasing gang activity and the Windrush scandal, what needs to be done to show that the lives of black Britons matter?
There’s a lot to do. Unfortunately there is no quick fix to the issues of systemic and institutional racism that permeate many layers of our society. I hope that the key lesson for government from the Windrush scandal will be a recognition of the historical context in which many black Britons arrived in this country. The Windrush story did not begin in 1948, when Commonwealth citizens were invited to this country, as the government might have you believe. It began hundreds of years before, on the slave ships that fuelled the United Kingdom’s empire and colonies. Our collective imperial amnesia must end. A government that recognises its own history will be better prepared to solve the problems of our present.