There can be little doubt that the Chhokar case represented probably the lowest point and biggest shock for the prosecution service in Scotland in many years. To put that in context the Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd, QC, who was appointed in February 2000 and who was Lord Advocate at the time of the Lockerbie trial, itself the biggest crime in Scotland in the 20 th century said -
"I believed that the Chhokar case would cause more difficulties than the Lockerbie case."
(Jandoo report, page 158)
"I think we have to re-establish ourselves and achieve a place in the minds of the public."
(Jandoo report, page 200)
This report attempts to analyse the way in which the Department responded to the criticisms in the Jandoo report and the current effectiveness of the measures taken.
Ironically before the Chhokar murder the then Lord Advocate, Lord Hardie, had in 1997 signed up to the Leadership Challenge, an initiative by the Commission for Racial Equality, which invited those in positions of influence and authority in all areas of Scottish society to take an individual and personal lead in promoting the principle of racial equality, to create a climate for change and to effect change with the goal of eradicating racial discrimination altogether.
In his report Dr Jandoo levels the charge of institutional racism against the Department which developing the theme of the MacPherson Report (into the Stephen Lawrence murder in England) he defines as appearing in 4 possible ways:-
- the official policies or procedures of an organisation may be deliberately and overtly discriminatory
- the official policies may be free of discrimination but the informal culture - the canteen culture - of the organisation may be prejudiced and hostile to such groups
- official policies may be "colour blind" and unintentionally discriminatory or
- the informal culture may similarly be unintentionally discriminatory (Jandoo report, page 203).
He defines institutional racism as:-
"Whenever the service provided by an organisation fails - whether deliberately or not - to meet equally the needs of all the people whom it serves, having regard to their racial, ethnic or cultural backgrounds."
Using his own definition he held that the liaison arrangements with the Chhokar family did show evidence of institutional racism. In particular (in relation to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service) he found the Procurator Fiscal's Office was not well informed about Sikh custom in relation to cremation after death causing the family unnecessary (and unintended) distress.
Secondly, letters sent from the Procurator Fiscal's Office to Mr Chhokar Snr in English presupposed his knowledge of English.
Thirdly, the Procurator Fiscal's Office was slow to discover that interpreters would be needed.
In this report we have attempted to demonstrate the ways in which the Department reacted and continues to react to these charges.
Even before Dr Jandoo published his report the Department had begun to act:
"I have stressed that institutional racism is a disorder in an organisation which is likely to occur from time to time in greater or less degree and has to be tackled whenever it occurs or recurs….. What is more, not only are the faults remediable but there are encouraging signs that steps are being taken to cure them. If this report were concerned only with events up to the spring of 1999 it would have presented a sorry picture indeed…… However, much has been done in the time since then……. Nevertheless there is still a great deal of ground to be covered before the public can be satisfied that the Police and prosecution authorities are clear of institutional racism, they still have a long way to go."
We have looked at the ways in which the Department has built on their early work and our recommendations are intended to highlight improvements we consider will enable the Department to continue to improve.
The signs are encouraging and there is evidence of commitment to the task. What has become crystal clear to us is that confidence of the ethnic minority community is at best fragile and could be easily lost - the price of success is constant vigilance. The areas of race crime and associated policy, the use of interpreters and translation, employment practices and outreach initiatives have been examined in some detail and input sought from as many system users and others as was possible. Although we have made suggestions and recommendations in relation to various practice points the overall conclusion is a positive one.
"The Chhokar case highlighted a number of issues in respect of communication and support for victims, witnesses and their families. It is difficult to be too specific about which changes have taken place since then as at the time of the Chhokar case the witness service wasn't fully developed. Staff currently working within the court setting confirm, however, that there is now a clear commitment to providing an effective service to victims and witnesses and that working relationships between all the agencies at court are constructive."
(Neil Paterson, Acting Chief Executive, Victim Support, Scotland)
In the preparation of its Race Equality Scheme and its Race Equality Action Plan the Department received wide praise for the meticulous attention to detail and close monitoring of progress. The Ministerial lead given by the Solicitor General as head of the Race (now Diversity) Strategy Group continues to send a clear signal to staff and others of the commitment of the Department at the highest level to pursue the race equality agenda. The momentum must be maintained.
As a final marker against complacency we quote the words of the former Lord Advocate, Lord Hardie -
"If you are trying to rebut the allegation that institutional racism exists in any organisation then a good starting point is to assume that it exists and then look at the systems in place to ascertain whether in fact it does exist."
We would echo that sentiment.