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  • Author or Editor: Bharat Malkani x
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The legal system today appears to promote racial justice, through laws that prohibit racial discrimination and race hate crimes, for example. The law also requires public authorities to take proactive steps to advance racial equality and to foster good race relations. As this chapter illustrates, though, there are limits to the use of law. In education, criminal justice, employment, healthcare, and housing, legal authorities have been unable or unwilling to grapple with the six concepts of Critical Race Theory set out in Chapter 1: the problem of structural racism, the social construction of race and racism, intersectionality, interest-convergence, lived theory, and the limits of adversarial legal processes.

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Racial justice is never far from the headlines. The Windrush Scandal, the toppling of the statue of Edward Colston and racism within the police have all recently captured the public’s attention and generated legal action. But, although the ideals of the legal system such as fairness and equality, seem allied to the struggle for racial justice, all too often campaigners have been let down by the system.

This book examines law’s troubled relationship with racial justice. It explains that law’s historical role in creating and perpetuating racial injustices continues to stifle its ability to advance the cause of racial justice today.

Both a lawyer’s guide to anti-racism and an anti-racist’s guide to legal action, it unites these perspectives to help both groups understand how to use the law to tackle racial injustices.

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As the British Empire disintegrated in the aftermath of the world wars in the first half of the 1900s, immigration laws were developed which replicated the effect of colonial rule. These laws maintained the two-tiered legal system that had developed during colonial rule, ensuring that people racialized as something other than ‘White British’ were denied the full protection of the law. Yet at the same time, laws to promote good race relations were introduced, which appeared to make the legal system a tool for racial justice, rather than racial injustice. It is with this in mind that we can better understand racial injustices today, in education, criminal justice, employment, housing, and healthcare systems.

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This chapter is concerned with the use of law to create and perpetuate racial injustices during the era of the British Empire. It explores the use of law to justify and facilitate imperialism and colonial rule and to legitimize slavery. It considers how law was used to impose social control over indigenous populations and the ways in which law created the phenomenon of structural racism. In effect, a two-tiered legal system was created: one for those classed as White British, and another more disadvantageous system for those classed as something other than White British.

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This chapter sets out some definitional and conceptual issues. It defines the term racial justice and outlines six key concepts of Critical Race Theory that underpin the analysis in the rest of the book: structural racism, the social construction of race and racism, intersectionality, interest-convergence, lived theory, and the inherent limits of legal processes. It also outlines the problems with ubiquitous terms such as BAME, equality, diversity, and inclusion.

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With the study of law’s relationship with racial justice in mind, this chapter draws on theories of antiracism and progressive lawyering to set out four principles for antiracist lawyering: reflection, creativity, collaboration, and accountability. It argues that lawyers who wish to promote racial justice should engage in reflection, should adopt creative approaches to lawyering, should collaborate, and should remain accountable to their clients.

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This concluding chapter summarizes the analysis throughout the book, drawing on the case of Shamima Begum to highlight the limits of law in the struggle for racial justice. It also considers how law has been used to advance racial justice in former colonies of the British Empire. It considers the legal case for reparations for slavery, the use of law to secure compensation for victims of racial injustices in Kenya, and the use of law to challenge the death penalty in Barbados, a vestige of colonial rule.

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The introduction draws attention to the paradoxical nature of the relationship between law and racial justice, highlighting how the law can be used to both help and hinder the struggle for racial justice. We might assume that the legal system will be allied to the idea of racial justice because it is said to be underpinned by the principles of neutrality and fairness, and there are various Acts of Parliament that appear to give effect to these principles such as the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010. However, there are examples of law failing to advance racial justice and sometimes facilitating racial injustices. The Introduction sets out the central contention of this book: that there are historical, cultural, and systemic reasons for the limits of law.

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