Peter Herbert on accusations of playing the race card.

Peter Herbert is a barrister at 14 Gray's Inn Square, chair of the Society of Black Lawyers, former member of the Judicial Studies Board, and a part-time Immigration Adjudicator.A new offence was created by a member of the judiciary at Southwark this month when Judge Christopher Hardy accused a 21-year-old black nursery nurse of deciding to "cynically and dishonestly play the race card hoping to seek politically correct sympathy from the jury".

The sentence for the assault on a retired Major-General was 12-months' immediate imprisonment. The judge had, however, a larger target than the nurse in mind when he went on to comment: "What happened in your defence is happening increasingly in courts when a defendant appears from the ethnic minorities."

The judge's comments are even more disturbing given that they were made after recently completed race awareness training carried out by the Judicial Studies Board.

The suggestion that members of the ethnic minorities collectively attempt a line of defence based on race is a perverted view. Ethnic minority defendants, contrary to Judge Hardy's view, are not a homogeneous group of people.

Racism may well be a factor in their legitimate defence, and they may be guilty of the offence as charged, but there are few, if any, incidents involving the police and the black community where race has not played some part.

Race and racism is grossly under-reported – Home Office statistics show only one in 20 racial incidents are reported to the police – and only a few thousand claims of racial discrimination in employment are made every year – despite 62 per cent unemployment in London alone for young Afro-Caribbean men.

Race is a card dealt from a deck stacked to the ethnic minorities' disadvantage. The reality for African, Caribbean and Asian people is that, in London, they are stopped and searched more often by police officers; are more likely to die in police custody; and are more likely to be sent to prison with fewer previous convictions than their white counterparts. See The Hood Report (CRE 1992).

Judge Hardy would do well to heed the recent admonition given by the Lord Chancellor to Judge William Crawford (he of the "work like a nigger" comment) when he said: "Remarks of this kind do disproportionate damage to the perception of justice and the reputation of the judiciary."