Last Updated 27 Jul 2020

If it happened today, would the Stephen Lawrence case be policed differently?

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Stephen Lawrence was a London teenager who was killed in 1993 when he was 18, in a racist attack reportedly carried out by a gang of white youths. The case provoked widespread criticism of the police, as well as the Crown Prosecution Service. This study aims to assess whether, had the case occurred today, 20 years later, it would have been policed in a different way to the way it was handled in 1993. The study assesses this by reviewing a number of sources including legal cases and academic textbooks and journals.

The background to the case is examined, in terms of racism and its decline over the years, immigration policies, the emergence of social media and the criminal justice system. Legislation is a particular focus, and the Criminal and Disorder Act 1998 and other relevant Acts are discussed.

Against this background, the paper argues that the Stephen Lawrence case would have been policed differently had it occurred today. This argument is made in a number of ways, including consideration of a similar scenario in R v Rogers in 2007. The study traces the problems in the case to a lack of understanding of racism and poor skills at an institutional level within the police.The study also shows how the police attitude towards institutional racism has been transformed, and how society has changed to the extent that people are much more knowledgeable about the law and their rights.Other important factors are also discussed.

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