The Chilling Verdict on Racism in the Judiciary ; `Lord Justice Judge Says "No Problem Here" with Such Iron-Clad Certainty That You Have to Worry'

Article excerpt

THE JUDGES of this country are free of racial prejudice. How do we know? For one thing, an Old Bailey judge says so. "There are those who will find prejudice around every corner," complained Henry Pownall in his retirement speech this week. "It is time somebody said there is none of it here in this building, in any of us."

So that's all right then. No need to remind their honours and their lordships to show respect and fairness to all. No need to trouble them with guidelines about Rasta culture and the unacceptability of calling people Negroes. We can save our lectures for the lesser mortals in the nation's housing estates and police canteens.

The utter arrogance of Judge Pownall's remarks almost beggar belief. This country has a shameful problem of racism, many aspects of which were painfully exposed by the Lawrence inquiry, yet a white judge asks us to believe there is no problem at the Old Bailey, simply because he says so.

If this was really just a case of one man awarding himself medals for impartiality and bleating about political correctness we might dismiss it as an irrelevance, but sadly it is not. As a letter written by one of the country's most senior judges reveals, the problem goes almost to the top.

The letter was written early last month by the Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, Lord Justice Judge (that is his name: without his wig he is Sir Igor Judge). Intended as a polite tip-off to colleagues about a study ordered by the Lord Chancellor into the question of racial bias in the court system, it is a document that reeks of complacency. It claims that since the last February's Macpherson report into the Lawrence case there has been "continuous speculation and comment" about possible institutional racism in "virtually every area of public life", including the courts.

"Many of you," his lordship tells his fellow-judges, "have already heard me express the belief, first, that any judge who allows himself, or herself, to be influenced by the ethnic origin, colour or creed of any individual using the court... is unfit to hold judicial office, and second, that in reality the judiciary discharges its duties with scrupulous fairness and impartiality, ignoring any such consideration."

He goes on: "I am sure that properly conducted research carried out with the co-operation and support of the judiciary will serve to demonstrate that comments and speculation about alleged or perceived racial prejudice among the judiciary are without foundation." And, bravely, he confronts the unthinkable: if the research fails to match his expectations "then any problems revealed by the research must be faced head-on and without equivocation." Not a hint of self- doubt; he speaks with iron-clad confidence. That's what is so worrying.

How open is the mind of someone who approaches this subject with the absolute certainty that "in reality" his profession "discharges its duties with scrupulous fairness"? …