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Feasibility Study of Legal Representation Among White and Ethnic Minority Criminal Accused - Research Findings

DescriptionThis study examined whether there are any differences concerning the update of legal representation by accused persons from different racial groups.
ISBN0 7480 7058 3
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateDecember 31, 1998
Crime and Criminal Justice Research Findings No. 22 (1998)
Feasibility Study of Legal Representation Among White and Ethnic Minority Criminal Accused

Michele Burman, Lesley Mann and Nicole Bourque,
Department of Sociology, University of Glasgow

ISBN 0-7480-7058-3Publisher The Scottish OfficePrice £5.00
This small-scale exploratory study was undertaken to obtain a measure of unrepresented accused appearing in the Glasgow District and Sheriff Courts and to identify the reasons for lack of representation. The study also examined whether there are any differences concerning the uptake of legal representation by accused persons from different racial groups. This Research Findings paper is being published under section 306 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 which places a duty on the Secretary of State to publish information to assist criminal justice practitioners to avoid discrimination on the basis of race or gender.
Main Findings
  • Ninety-six point five percent of cases called to the Glasgow District Court in the study period involved white accused and 3.5% involved accused from an ethnic minority; in Glasgow Sheriff Court, 97.3% of cases called involved white accused and 2.7% involved ethnic minority accused. Ethnic minorities were proportionately the same in the District Court, and proportionately under-represented in the Sheriff Court, compared to their presence within the population of Glasgow city (3.5%, Census, 1991).
  • In the District Court, 14% of accused called to court were female (of whom 98% were white); in the Sheriff Court, 9% of accused called to court were female (again, 98% of whom were white).
  • Less than half (44%) of the female accused called to the District Court actually appeared; whereas 61% of males called there appeared. In the Sheriff Court, 94% of males who were called appeared, as did 86% of females.
  • Of the ethnic minority cases called in both courts in the study period, 90% were male and 10% were female.
  • Of those criminal accused appearing in the District Court, 18% were without legal representation; they comprised 18% of white accused and 36% of ethnic minority accused.
  • At least 25% of the unrepresented District Court cases had reached the trial stage of proceedings.
  • Less than 1% of the accused appearing in Court 4 of the Sheriff Court were unrepresented; all were white males.
  • Reasons for accused not taking legal representation included perceived cost, ineligibility for legal aid, perceptions of the seriousness of the offence, lack of trust in legal representatives, lack of knowledge about the criminal justice system and feelings of embarrassment and shame.
Introduction
This research had three main objectives:
  • to obtain some measure of the number of unrepresented criminal accused appearing in the Glasgow District and Sheriff Courts;
  • to examine whether there are any differences concerning the uptake of legal representation by accused persons from different racial groups; and
  • to identify the main reasons why criminal accused persons do not obtain legal representation.
The research took place over a three month period. District Court data are based on a trawl of the court records of all cases heard in all of the Glasgow District Courts for the month of September 1996 (i.e. 100% coverage), and a short period of court attendance in November and December 1996. The Sheriff Court data are based on a trawl of one sample court (Court 4) in Glasgow Sheriff Court in September 1996, and a short period of court attendance in December 1996 and January 1997. The data in this study therefore offer only a snap-shot picture. Interviews were undertaken with a small sample of court clerks, social workers and ethnic minority advice and community workers.
Measuring the Lack of Legal Representation
DISTRICT COURT
A total of 4,878 criminal cases were called to Glasgow District Court, although only 59% (n= 2,862) of accused who were called appeared in court. Legal representation, or lack of it, was noted only for those cases where the accused actually appeared. Of those who appeared, the accused was unrepresented in 18% (n=519) of cases.
Of the 519 unrepresented cases, 488 involved white accused and 31 were from an ethnic minority group. Placing these figures in the context of overall numbers of accused appearing and their ethnic background, it can be seen that 18% (i.e. 488 out of 2,775) of white accused who appeared were without legal representation. However, a much higher percentage of ethnic minority accused who appeared did so without legal representation: 36% (31 out of 87).
SHERIFF COURT
Of a total of 1,164 cases which were called in Court 4 in Glasgow Sheriff Court, the accused appeared in 1,088 cases. The proportion of accused who appeared was much higher than in the District Court (although this may be due to the nature of business in Court 4, which included custody cases).
A very small proportion (n=10) of accused persons appeared without representation, all of whom were white males. These cases were at different stages of the judicial process, with four having proceeded to the point of sentencing without representation.
These data would suggest that lack of legal representation was more common in the District Court, although it should be remembered that the Sheriff Court figures were based on one Court only.
Figure 1 shows the breakdown, in terms of gender and ethnicity, of represented and unrepresented accused appearing in the District Court.
Figure 1
Representation/Non Representation by Ethnicity and Gender
Glasgow District Court, September 1996
Figure 1 Representation/Non Representation by Ethnicity and Gender Glasgow District Court, September 1996
An accused person may have to make several appearances at court, from first appearance to final disposal of the case. At least a quarter of the unrepresented cases in the District Court (128 out of 519) reached the trial stage without representation. This indicates that unrepresented accused are not just a feature of pleading diets, but are found at other stages of the judicial process.
Figure 2 shows the breakdown, in terms of gender and ethnicity, of represented and unrepresented accused appearing in Glasgow Sheriff Court.
Figure 2
Representation/Non Representation by Ethnicity and Gender
Court 4, Glasgow Sheriff Court, September 1996
Figure 2 Representation/Non Representation by Ethnicity and Gender Court 4, Glasgow Sheriff Court, September 1996
Reasons for Lack of Representation
Clerks and social workers who were interviewed believed that unrepresented accused are more a feature of the District Court than the Sheriff Court; this is confirmed by the research. It was also their view that non-representation was most common in road traffic offences, licensing offences, failure to pay fines and failure to produce documentation than in other types of offences, and that non-representation was more common in 'guilty' rather than 'not guilty' pleas.
The general availability of legal aid is a key issue affecting legal representation. Financial eligibility and merits tests which need to be satisfied are key factors in determining the availability of legal aid. Accused persons who were interviewed cited other reasons for not taking up legal representation, including:
  • the cost of retaining a lawyer;
  • lack of knowledge about the legal system;
  • language difficulties (especially, but not exclusively, for ethnic minority accused);
  • the perceived seriousness of the offence by the accused;
  • a lack of trust and a lack of confidence in the legal system; and
  • shame or embarrassment at being found out and/or having to talk about the offence.
The Need for Further Research
More research is required on the decision of accused persons in relation to legal representation. The data in the current study relate only to one month in Glasgow District Court and one court in Glasgow Sheriff Court, and therefore offer only a snap-shot picture.
Research investigations on ethnic minorities in the criminal justice system continue to be hampered by the lack of accurate information on ethnicity in court records and in official statistics.
In particular, there is a need for further quantitative and qualitative research in the following areas:
  • decisions by accused persons concerning whether or not to obtain legal representation;
  • systems and procedures for racial monitoring in the criminal justice system;
  • ethnic minority experiences and perceptions of the criminal justice system and agencies such as the police, social workers and lawyers; and
  • perceptions and experiences of agents working in the criminal justice system concerning race.
Further copies of this Research Findings paper or information about the Central Research Unit Programme can be obtained by contacting:
The Scottish Office Central Research Unit
Room J1-O
Saughton House
Edinburgh EH11 3XA
Tel: 0131 244 2112
Fax: 0131 244 2109