Tackling Racial Injustice: Children and the
Youth Justice System

25 February 2021

Today JUSTICE has published the latest working party report ‘Tackling Racial Injustice: Children and the Youth Justice System’. I am delighted to have had the opportunity to chair the working party that produced this report.

The report makes practical recommendations to reduce BAME disproportionality in the Youth Justice System (YJS) of England and Wales.


The report makes 45 recommendations aiming to eradicate, and if not, reduce, the bias and misperception that pervades the YJS. We make the case for a child-first approach, with sources of discrimination addressed through changes to policy, culture, and practices. These include: e.g.:

  1. Mandating the police turn on their body worn video cameras before every stop and search, so that improper conduct is prevented or caught;
  2. Police officers, as a matter of course, should thank individuals stopped for their cooperation and acknowledge the inconvenience caused, particularly where such stop resulted in no further action;
  3. Prioritising the welfare of the child (such as utilising diversion and deferred-prosecution schemes) over punitive responses through the criminal justice system;
  4. Preventing the unfair use of Drill music as bad character evidence in court, to tackle the corrosive effect of portraying a genre of music as innately illegal, dangerous, and problematic;
  5. Utilising planned interviews to prevent arrests wherever possible.

Time for change

The fact that the youth justice system is failing BAME children is unfortunately not news.

While no one report can undo years of structural racism, we hope to support the continued efforts of communities seeking equal justice. It is the responsibility of the system, not the children, to change.

The focus of our work here has been the experiences of BAME (which includes Gypsy Roma Traveller) children in the youth justice system, as this represents an area where racial disparities are at their most severe and most impactful. For many, childhood experiences of the youth justice system represent the start of a life-long series of negative interactions. It is this cycle of criminalisation we wish to interrupt. Each recommendation, if implemented, would have a positive effect in reducing the number of BAME children in our youth justice system and the disproportionate outcomes which are currently so evident

You can read the full report and our recommendations on the JUSTICE website.

Sandra has also been quoted in The Law Society Gazette, The Times & The Justice Gap following the release of the report.

Further information

For further information on the issues raised in this blog, please contact a member of our Youth Crime team. You can also find out more about the work our Youth Crime team cover by clicking here.


About the author

Sandra Paul is a Partner in our Criminal Litigation team. She has a wealth of experience in criminal and related litigation. The majority of her work concerns defending allegations of sexual misconduct. She works with clients in the UK and abroad, including allegations following the #MeToo campaign.

She has a particular passion and aptitude for working with children and young adults, navigating them safely through the youth justice system. Youth crime is a specialist area in which Sandra is a leader in her field.


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We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

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