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24 November 2021

New research examines the effectiveness of legal action in tackling racism

A new report finds that the law can be a powerful tool for anti-racist campaigners and CSOs, but it can be harder to use in practice.
Strengthening Civil Society

The Baring Foundation has today published new research into how civil society campaigners and the lawyers that work with and for them – have used legal action to challenge racial injustice and bring about wider social change in the UK since 1990.

The Pursuit of Racial Justice through Legal Action is the first such overview of this issue and was researched and written by Dr Bharat Malkani, a Senior Lecturer at Cardiff University who has written widely on race and the law.

Overall, Dr Malkani concludes that the law can be a powerful tool for CSOs and their lawyers fighting racial injustice. However, he finds they have sometimes struggled to use it effectively for a range of reasons, including cuts to legal aid, the adversarial nature of legal processes which can exacerbate racial tensions; and that lawyers and those who work in civil society organisations are not necessarily trained to be anti-racist.

The report also highlights:

  • the value of informal legal processes such as using the language of the law to persuade organisations and service providers to end racially discriminatory practices, which can save time and money and avoid the emotional stress often associated with an adversarial process;
  • the importance of providing a holistic service to victims of racism beyond just legal support. Incidents of racial injustice can have a ripple effect across people’s lives that extends far beyond the incident in question.

The report was commissioned as part of a focus by the Baring Foundation on racial justice including in its Strengthening Civil Society programme which supports the use of legal action by civil society to tackle discrimination and disadvantage.

Over the next five years, the Foundation has ringfenced £2 million to support legal action to address racial injustice. The first grants in this funding stream will support legal action to address racial injustice in the criminal justice system and will be announced in December.

You can also read a blog by Bharat Malkani on Justice Gap here.

(Cover image: Beth Suzanna Harris: