How much do we know about minority groups' access to justice?
A recent literature review published by the Ministry of Justice (1) sought to find evidence in relation to black and minority ethnic (BME) groups, gypsies and travellers, refugees and asylum seekers and lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people on the following questions:
- What are their experiences of seeking advice and support with justiciable problems (including those experienced as consumers)?
- What are their experiences of civil and criminal justice systems and legal processes?
- What evidence is there of barriers to access to justice for these groups?
- What policy and practice has been demonstrated to help overcome any barriers?
The authors found few sources of evidence that focused on these questions. They were able to make some conclusions however:
The groups were vulnerable in terms of access to justice. There was evidence of prejudice and discrimination within the systems, organisations and agencies of legal and civil justice. There was evidence of legislation having negative impacts for these groups. There was evidence that perceptions and experiences lead to mistrust amongst minority groups, who believed their treatment will be prejudiced should they seek solutions to justiciable problems.
There was little research exploring the experiences of seeking advice and support with justiciable problems of individuals in minority groups. Available evidence suggested discrimination or perceptions of discrimination lead to a lack of advice seeking amongst these minority groups. Research exploring this in relation to BME communities suggested they were less likely to seek advice. Where they did receive advice, it was likely to be of a lower quality than that received by other (majority) groups.
There was a body of evidence that indicated the negative experiences of these minority groups within civil, criminal and associated systems and processes. Discriminatory outcomes for minority groups were demonstrated by research in the criminal justice system. In addition, individuals in minority groups were more likely to perceive prejudice and discrimination in their treatment. Legal status dominated the experience of some groups (i.e. Gypsy/Travellers and asylum seekers) so there was little research or literature that explored other dimensions of access to justice.
Evidence suggested a lack of awareness of ‘justiciable problems’ and of the sources and availability of advice. Agencies within legal systems and structures may fail to recognise the needs of minority groups, leading to negative experiences that were likely to impact upon future advice-seeking behaviour in the pursuit of justice. Evidence suggested a lack of available specialist advice, and legislation that further limited this.
The report makes a number of recommendations in particular that policy makers should recognize the importance of access to justice within strategies to address social exclusion.
1 Access to Justice: a review of existing evidence of the experiences of minority groups based on ethnicity, identity and sexuality, Paul Mason and others, Ministry of Justice Research Series 7/09 May 2009 Ministry of Justice Research Series