SBL uses Lawrence inquiry to call for legal shake-up to fight race hate

The Society of Black Lawyers (SBL) has called for a radical rethink in handling and combating race hate crimes.

In a submission to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry last week, the SBL put forward 34 proposals, including creation of UK-wide racial investigation units which would be monitored locally but accountable at a national level.

It also called for dedicated CPS units to prosecute race hate crimes, and for the creation of a centralised complaints procedure for the whole criminal justice system – a criminal justice complaints commission.

SBL chairman Peter Herbert said that proposals put to the inquiry, such as amending the national curriculum to include school lessons on fighting racism, had met with a positive response.

He said the anti-racism drive should be pushed from within the legal profession and that anti-racism training should be followed up after the Bar Vocational Course and the Legal Practice Course.

He added that there should also be performance appraisal for police and judges on race and equality issues.

The SBL has been in discussion with the US Department of Justice, consulting it on ways of handling race hate crimes. It has also agreed to provide technical assistance to help the UK Government fight race crime.

Herbert said the SBL “will use the discussions with US agencies to pass to the Home Office what has been learned from the US experience, such as the Rodney King case”.

He added: “We are also looking beyond the Lawrence inquiry, at matters such as resources and political will in combating racism.”

On 12 December the society will hold the first international conference on race hate crimes, supported by the 1990 Trust, the Black Police Association and the Association of Black Probation Officers.

Delegates are expected to include individuals involved in the criminal justice system, including the parents of Stephen Lawrence, the deputy US Attorney General, Michael Mansfield QC, and Mr Justice Sedley. Home Secretary Jack Straw has also been invited.