EU Watch

Study Shows EU Justice Systems Discriminate Against Ethnic Minorities

The study reports clear violations of the fundamental right to equality and non-discrimination, revealing that criminal justice systems are likely to be ineffective and unreliable when they allow different treatment for different groups.

by Chiara Liberati

The Open Society Justice Initiative and the Justicia European Rights Network have been documenting prejudices towards people of different ethnic, racial and national backgrounds within the criminal justice systems of the European Union.

Statistics unavailable in most countries

This investigation has been made much harder by a lack of statistical evidence, research and information on the way in which people belonging to racial or ethnic minorities who are accused of crimes in EU countries are treated during criminal proceedings.

Monitoring disparities in criminal justice systems across Europe is crucial for ensuring that people enjoy equal protection under procedural safeguards and non-discriminatory treatment by the police, prosecutors and courts.

Deeply rooted stereotypes influence police, prosecutors and judges

This comparative study was conducted in Romania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Italy, Spain, Greece, Hungary, Sweden, Slovenia, the United Kingdom, and Estonia. Statistics on the criminal justice systems in these countries are patchy and only the UK systematically collects data on ethnic and racial minorities.

The States involved in the research have identified stereotypes, which are deeply rooted in society, that are reflected in the practice of the police, prosecutors, judges and, sometimes, in the exercise of legal aid.

The study clearly demonstrates that foreign nationals do not enjoy the same degree of protection to their rights after they have been arrested, mainly due to a lack of proper translation and interpretation services, a lack of sufficient information on their rights and the poor quality of legal aid.

Ethnic minorities over-represented

The study highlights that the groups most vulnerable to discrimination in criminal proceedings are Roma, Black, Asian and African minorities, including people migrating from conflict zones.

According to research done by Antigone, foreigners are over-represented in arrest statistics and they also receive stricter penalties. The problems highlighted in the study include a lack of a proper translation services and the limited use of alternatives to detention.

In Slovenia and Bulgaria disproportionate numbers of foreigners are arrested by police and in Bulgaria the Roma community is discriminated against because of political discussions on the fight against "Roma criminality".

The study shows that the Czech Republic, Sweden, Estonia and Cyprus have clear problems regarding the right to information, interpretation and translation, as well as access to an effective legal aid system. Significant prejudice in the granting of legal aid to Roma is also evident in Romania.

Discriminatory attitudes at different stages of the criminal justice system are present in Hungary as well as in Greece, where it was observed that Roma people, migrants and descendants of migrants from South Asia are the most at risk.

In Spain, experts believe that there are prejudices among judges, prosecutors, judicial officials and even among some lawyers against people from ethnic minorities, especially those of Roma (or Spanish gypsy) origin.

Only the United Kingdom systematically gathers useful data on ethnicity. According to the Prison Population Statistics, Black and Asian people are over-represented in the criminal justice system at many stages of the process. Ethnic Asians are twice as likely to be stopped and searched, and black people are four times more likely to be stopped and searched than white people.

A significant disparity

The study shows that that there is significant inequity in the treatment of people from ethnic minorities. There is also a gap in regulations at EU level, which leads to a lack of harmonisation in the gathering of data and monitoring relating to criminal justice systems, especially in terms of ethnic and racial minorities and foreign people.

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