Press release: More hate crime laws will not end structural racial discrimination in Europe’s criminal justice system

Article by Fair Trials

Brussels-based NGO Fair Trials has called for the European Union to end structural discrimination throughout criminal justice systems.

The global justice watchdog made its comments in response to the European Commission’s State of the Union 2020 address this morning, during which Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced measures to tackle racism in Europe.

Mitali Nagrecha, Head of European Networks for Fair Trials said:

“The EU’s plan to expand further the list of EU hate crimes as a response to racism will not solve the real problem of structural racism that is endemic in  Europe’s criminal justice systems. Instead, we need to acknowledge racism throughout Europe’s criminal justice systems, and to engage those most impacted by these policies to lead reform.”

“Structural racism is not just a problem within policing, and not just a problem in the United States. It is endemic throughout Europe’s criminal justice systems, from arrest to sentencing.”

“The EU must take bold, radical action to end structural racism within policing, pre-trial detention and sentencing —and to reduce its reliance on punishment in the first place.”

Support, not punishment

We urge the European Commission to also consider the role of punishment in Member States. Throughout Europe, inequality, poverty, and racial differences are often met with punishment rather than services, support, and other responses. We should assess this use of criminal sanctions. Fair Trials’ recent research shows, for example, an overuse of criminal sanctions in response to people’s poverty and inability to pay.

Punishing hate crimes is not the solution

Prosecuting hate crimes won’t solve structural racism in the system itself; it will only serve to reinforce punishment as a solution. We need more holistic and less punitive approaches to issues of discrimination, bias, and racism.

Racism goes beyond policing

Discrimination in policing is problematic on its face: people of colour are targeted repeatedly in communities across Europe, facing shame, stigma, and trauma as a result. People who are racially profiled then face criminal prosecution, punishment, and a range of other consequences that impact their lives for years to come. As people of colour are trapped in criminal legal systems, their fundamental rights, recognised in EU law, are not always upheld—thereby making it harder to argue that “the innocent won’t be punished.” People of colour also face worse consequences within the system.

One recent study in France showed how discrimination occurs at individual and structural levels —and at many decision points within the criminal justice system, from judicial decisions about pre-trial detention to sentencing. For example, the researchers found that people born outside of the sentencing jurisdiction were more likely to face pre-trial detention and prison sentences: 5.2% of people born outside of France are held in pre-trial detention, compared with 1.8% of people born in France. One in six people from France faced prison sentences, compared to one in four people born outside of France.

Read Fair Trials’ recommendations to ensure the European Commission to end structural discrimination throughout its criminal legal systems here:

On 19 June 2020, the European Parliament passed a resolution “on the anti-racism protests following the death of George Floyd.” The resolution acknowledged that Black, brown, and other people of colour across Europe are subject to aggressive policing and profiling. The resolution also called upon the European Commission “to come forward with a comprehensive strategy against racism and discrimination and an EU framework for national action plans against racism with a dedicated component on fighting against these phenomena in the law enforcement services, while taking an intersectional approach.”

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