Modicum of Justice for Stephen

It was almost 19 years after the brutal racist killing on 22 April 1993 of 18 year old architectural student Stephen Lawrence, that a modicum of juctice came to his parents Doreen and Neville and their family. When two of the five or six young white males responsible for his murder - which occurred while he waited for a bus home in Eltham South London - were sentenced against all odds at the Old Bailey, a huge sigh of relief was almost too audible for words!

Scar on the conscience of the nation

Norris (now 35) and Dobson (now 36), then under age 18, were sentenced to life imprisonment and will serve a minimum of 14 years 3 months and 15 years 2 months respectively. In passing his judgment, the Judge Mr Justice Treacy said that it was a murder 'which scarred the conscience of the nation', and told them: 'You have committed a terrible and evil crime motivated by nothing other than racial hatred. He did not know you and the only reason you attacked him was because he was black’.

Finally their day in court

This day in court came mainly because of the tenacity and persistent demands for justice by Doreen and Neville Lawrence. They fought against a background of basic shameful failures by the Met Police, initial Government rejection of loud calls for a public inquiry, and a justice system
that simply did not always take seriously the need for delivering fairness and justice for black and minority ethnic people in Britain.

As Doreen stated outside the Old Bailey court house, no verdict or sentencing 'could bring back by son. He is buried!' But the result nevertheless provides an opportunity for her and Neville to move forward with their lives for the first time in 18 years. Clearly from their pronouncements, it does not in any way indicate full closure because at least the three or four more people said to be involved in Stephen's killing are walking freely. The family and all people of justice in Britain would of course like them to have their day in court, which almost certainly will come.

Double Jeopardy - a matter of justice

The Stephen Lawrence Public Inquiry recommended changes in the law, critically, the 800 year old Double Jeopardy rule which meant that a person could now be tried a second time for the same crime. Progress in forensic science, and a new and more professional police investigating team which took race equality seriously, also helped to make possible this landmark in the pursuit of justice for Stephen.

All law abiding persons in Britain, black, white and Asian, people of faith and no faith, and, of course, the Stephen Lawrence Family campaign and Charitable Trust could breathe a sigh of relief at least partially. Referring to Dobson and Norris, Neville said: ‘This is only one step in a long, long journey. One of my greatest hopes is that these people will realised that they have been found out, and as they lay in their beds they will recognise that they were not the only ones responsible for the death of my son, and that they will give up rest of the accomplices'.

This change in the law is said by some to represent an 'injustice'; but essentially those who are actually guilty, and others, charged as guardians of the legal system, will know that there is no escaping the hands of justice. What is equally important, however, is that compelling evidence of gross miscarriages of justice must be subject to review in the courts with equal force. In this case, the evidence of actual wrong-doing would ultimately come before the court for its verdict.

Racism ignored at our peril!

Though some improvement in policing and other British institutions regarding the treatment of black and minority ethnic people in the public services and justice system is perceptible, the successful prosecution of this case, and other high profile cases of alleged racism, nevertheless refocuses a very needful debate on inequalities. It serves as a timely reminder that racism in both subtle and overt forms and the deep wounds it causes to individuals' lives, is still rife in British society. Black and minority ethnic people are still 8 to 10 times more likely to be stopped and searched by police, 5 times more likely to get a custodial sentence, and remain at a serious disadvantage when being considered for promotion and equal opportunity in employment.

Though there is evidence of some progress in race relations since the Lawrence report was published (1999), a lack of respect by institutions and in personal attitudes in our communities continue to manifest discrimination in recruitment, retention and promotion of minorities in the workplace and in social relationships. All sectors, including the churches, where racism is still rife, must look afresh and redouble efforts to continue work to root out racism wherever it exists. Change in attitudes is paramount, and must be sought with vigour though understanding goodwill and respect, and in policy and practice through education, preaching and teaching, all of which are of the utmost importance for building a genuinely cohesive, just, modern Britain.