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Justice gap: racism pervasive in criminal justice systems across Europe

Brussels, 12 September 2019 – Institutional racism prevails in criminal justice systems across the EU and impacts how racist crimes are (not) recorded, investigated and prosecuted, according to a new report published by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) today.


“Twenty years after the Macpherson Report revealed that the British police was institutionally racist, we now find that criminal justice systems across the European Union fail to protect victims of racist crimes – this despite the increase in violent racially motivated crimes”, said Karen Taylor, Chair of the European Network Against Racism.


ENAR’s report, covering 24 EU Member States, provides data on racist crimes between 2014 and 2018, and documents institutional practice during the recording, investigation and prosecution of hate crimes with a racial bias. It reveals how subtle forms of racism persistently appear in the criminal justice system from the moment a victim reports a racially motivated crime to the police, through to investigation and prosecution. This leads to a ‘justice gap’: a significant number of hate crime cases end up being dropped as a hate crime. 


Data over the period 2014-2018 suggest that racially motivated crimes are on the rise in many EU Member States. In addition, major events such as terrorist acts - and the political rhetoric and responses to these attacks - can cause spikes in the numbers of recorded racist crimes.


Most EU Member States have hate crime laws, as well as policies and guidance in place to respond to racist crime, but they are not enforced because of a context of deeply rooted institutional racism within law enforcement authorities.


The mishandling of racially motivated crimes by the authorities, and in particular the police, starts with the recording of racist crimes. Evidence suggests that the police do not take reports of racist crime seriously or they do not believe victims of racially motivated crimes. This practice appears to be especially true if certain groups, such as Roma and black people, report these crimes. Racial stereotyping is pervasive in policing at all levels.


In addition, the lack of institutional response and negative experiences of victims with the police mean that civil society organisations have to fill in the gap to ensure racially motivated crimes are properly recorded.


The racial bias can ‘disappear’ in the course of the police recording and investigating the crime. The police find it more straightforward to investigate crimes, such as violation of public order or crimes against property, than uncovering the evidence of the bias motivation.


There are also several factors that hinder the successful prosecution and sentencing of a hate crime with a racial bias, including lack of clear definitions of hate crimes with a racial bias; lack of training and limited capacity; and under-use of the aggravated ‘hate’ clause.


“We need a significant change within the criminal justice system, if racial justice is to prevail for victims of racist crime in Europe. Governments and institutions can better respond to hate crimes if they commit to review the practice, policies and procedures that disadvantage certain groups,” said Karen Taylor. “People’s safety is at stake and justice must be served – for all members of society.”

Learn more about ENAR´s shadow  report on the link below:

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