Justice gap: racism pervasive in criminal justice systems across Europe

Institutional racism prevails in criminal justice systems across the EU and impacts how racist crimes are (not) recorded, investigated and prosecuted, according to a new report published by the European Network Against Racism (ENAR) last week. 

“Twenty years after the Macpherson Report revealed that the British police was institutionally racist, we now find that criminal justice systems across the European Union fail to protect victims of racist crimes – this despite the increase in violent racially motivated crimes”, said Karen Taylor, Chair of the European Network Against Racism.

ENAR’s report, covering 24 EU Member States, provides data on racist crimes between 2014 and 2018, and documents institutional practice during the recording, investigation and prosecution of hate crimes with a racial bias. The study for Estonian report also includes the work carried out by Egert Rünne (our CEO) and Liina Laanpere (our lawyer of the refugee-related cases).

The report reveals how subtle forms of racism persistently appear in the criminal justice system from the moment a victim reports a racially motivated crime to the police, through to investigation and prosecution. This leads to a ‘justice gap’: a significant number of hate crime cases end up being dropped as a hate crime.

Data over the period 2014-2018 suggest that racially motivated crimes are on the rise in many EU Member States. Most EU Member States have hate crime laws, as well as policies and guidance in place to respond to racist crime, but they are not enforced because of a context of deeply rooted institutional racism within law enforcement authorities.

Studying the situation in-depth and perceiving the actual scope of the problem in Estonia is problematic as Estonian state has not transposed the Framework Decision 2008/913/JHA into its legislation. The Estonian Penal code does not include hate crime as a specific type of crime and does not outline bias motive as an aggravating circumstance. This kind of insufficient legislation hinders supporting and helping the victims even more, finds Egert Rünne, the CEO of the Estonian Human Rights Centre.

According to the report, the mishandling of racially motivated crimes by the authorities, and in particular the police, starts with the recording of racist crimes. Evidence suggests that the police do not take reports of racist crime seriously or they do not believe victims of racially motivated crimes. This practice appears to be especially true if certain groups, such as Roma and black people, report these crimes. Racial stereotyping is pervasive in policing at all levels in Europe.

In addition, the lack of institutional response and negative experiences of victims with the police mean that civil society organisations have to fill in the gap to ensure racially motivated crimes are properly recorded.

Racial bias can ‘disappear’ in the course of recording and investigating crimes. The police may find it simpler to investigate the crime itself without uncovering evidence of racial bias. As hate crime is not properly regulated under Estonian law, victims may lack motivation to report these incidents. Also, the police may lack motivation to record a crime as hate crime, as it has no real effect on the investigation or sentencing, added our lawyer Liina Laanpere.

Read the full report here.


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