Sanwar Ali: George Floyd and Home Office discrimination probe

By Sanwar Ali:

Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota in the US on 25 May 2020, discriminatory conduct in the UK as well, especially by UK authorities has been brought more into focus.  Despite there being minority groups at the highest level in the Government in the UK, many of whose ancestors faced shocking levels of discrimination overseas, there continues to be widespread allegations of discrimination in the UK. 

All four top positions in the UK Government, including the position of Prime Minister, are filled with people who have recent immigrant ancestry and to a great extent are from ethnic minorities.  The Home Secretary Priti Patel is of Indian ancestry whose parents after facing persecution in Uganda left for the UK in the 1960s.  In an NBC interview earlier this year Ms Patel was forced to admit that under the new immigration laws, her parents may not have been allowed into the UK.

Dominic Raab the Foreign Secretary is half Jewish.   His Jewish father fled Czechoslovakia before the Nazis arrived.  Rishi Sunak the Chancellor of the Exchequer's grandparents were from India.  The Prime Minister Boris Johnson as well is partly of immigrant minority group ancestry, with partly Turkish Muslim and Russian Jewish ancestry.  Johnson's paternal grandfather changed the family name from the Muslim Turkish sounding name Kemal to the more "white British" sounding name Johnson.  Ali Kemal Boris Johnson's great-grandfather a journalist and liberal leaning Turkish politician was murdered during the Turkish war of independence.  In Tzarist Russia pogroms anti-Jewish riots were commonplace, resulting in the deaths of large numbers of Jews.

There are numerous allegations of discrimination in the immigration and Justice system. UK visas at the Home Office is now facing an investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into their "hostile environment policy" and how it led to the Windrush scandal. 

David Isaac, CBE Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, had the following to say on 12 June 2020:

“The Windrush scandal and hostile environment policies have cast a shadow across the UK and its values. We are working with the Home Office to determine what must change so that this shameful period of our history is not repeated.

“The impact of COVID-19 and the killing of George Floyd by US police officers has resulted in urgent calls for action to end the systemic and entrenched race inequalities that exist in our country. The law requires that all public bodies must promote inclusivity and opportunity by considering the impact their policies have on ethnic minorities. We have long called for government to produce a comprehensive race equality strategy to tackle these injustices. This assessment and the Home Office’s response to the recommendations in Wendy Williams’ report will focus on the importance of PSED to put our country’s values on track…”

OISC (Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner) referred to Equalities Watchdog

We do not currently know if the Equality and Human Rights Commission will choose to investigate the OISC for racially discriminatory conduct as part of the investigation into the Home Office. High Court Judge Justice Choudhury the first High Court Court Judge of Bangladeshi ancestry in the UK, detailed arguable grounds for discrimination Claims against the OISC in October 2019.  The OISC is closely linked to the Home Office and says themselves that they are “sponsored by the Home Office”, which is now facing an investigation for discriminatory conduct.  There are a number of very serious concerns about the OISC:

  1. The OISC’s close links to UK visas at the Home Office are not in the interests of migrants.  Migrants should be able to depend on them.  There have been times when the OISC have shared information with UK visas at the Home Office for no good reason.  This has resulted in people unfairly having to leave the Country.  The OISC has therefore become involved in the "hostile environment" policy.
  2. The OISC is using Government support and funding to avoid scrutiny by the Employment Tribunals into numerous extremely serious allegations of discriminatory treatment of minority Groups.
  3. There are extremely serious allegations that the OISC has made numerous false statements against those from minority groups, and that the organisation is institutionally racist.  John Tuckett the Immigration Services Commissioner was formerly at the Church of England.  In February this year the Archbishop of Canterbury the Most Reverend Justin Welby said that the Church of England is "still deeply institutionally racist".
  4. Extremely serious allegations of harassment and victimisation of minority groups by the OISC.
  5. Deliberately avoiding dealing with complaints about discrimination in some cases for many years.  It would seem that the Information Commissioners Office behaves in a similar way.

UK Government funding defence of organisations accused of racial discrimination

In some situations where it is a regulatory (see Dr Eva Michalak case), or employment matter discrimination claims can be brought in the Employment Tribunal.  Organisations some of which are at least partly funded by the Government spend huge amounts of money trying to avoid coming under the jurisdiction of the Employment Tribunal, which would most likely expose discriminatory conduct.  People from BAME (Black, Asian, and minority ethnic) groups especially feel that they are discriminated against.  Typically, those who bring discrimination claims have very limited resources.  Those organisations who defend such claims have huge resources at their disposal.

Solicitors Regulation Authority and General Medical Council

There is ongoing concerns about discrimination at the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the General Medical Council.  Judge, Human Rights Lawyer and Chair of the Society of Black Lawyers Peter Herbert OBE had the following to say after a controversial report into allegations of discrimination at the Solicitors Regulation Authority which was published in March 2014.   

“Any analysis that suggests race is not a factor simply makes no sense…”

“There’s clearly a significant problem and the obvious conclusion is racial discrimination of one form or another.”

In the Dr Eva Michalak v General Medical Council case, in the Judgement of 1 November 2017 the Supreme Court found that Dr Michalak could take the General Medical Council as a regulator to the Employment Tribunal.  This important case makes it easier to bring discrimination claims against Regulators. 

We understand that, years after promising to do so, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) will be publishing a report about their prosecution policy and minority groups.  

Minority Doctors in UK faced threats of prosecution for exposing racial discrimination

On 13 February 2020 Professor Aneez Esmail and Sam Everington wrote a report “The perils of researching racial discrimination” in thebmjopionion.  It has been more than 25 years since the publication of their paper on Racial Discrimination in Medicine in The BMJ (The British Medical Journal).  This showed that British trained doctors with English sounding names were twice as likely to be shortlisted for senior house officer jobs than those with foreign sounding names.  The medical profession was accused of condoning an illegal system of discrimination which caused enormous damage to the careers of thousands of ethnic minority doctors. The authors of the report were threatened with prosecution and professional misconduct proceedings by the General Medical Council (GMC).

This led to further research by Professor Aneez Esmail and Sam Everington on the regulator’s disciplinary processes which resulted in a process of reform from within the GMC.  Professor Esmail was also involved in the Shipman enquiry.  However, further threats were made by the GMC when Professor Esmail was asked to write about the enquiry.  Harold Shipman was a white English doctor who is thought of as being the most prolific serial killer in modern history.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty had the following to say on 11 June 2020:

“…Liberty was founded in 1934 in reaction to the brutal policing of a protest. We champion anyone whose rights come under threat. We exist to stand up to power…

...George Floyd is the latest of countless Black people murdered by the state. It happened to take place in the US. It could have been the UK: in England and Wales alone, 183 people of colour have died at the hands of the police in the last thirty years. 

Racism is a powerful force in the UK. Every institution is tainted by institutional racism. The architecture of the state – from surveillance to policing, immigration enforcement and mental health detention – is built on racism. It creates the conditions for state violence against Black people, insulates perpetrators from accountability and entrenches deep structural inequality…”

UK Visas and Immigration at the Home Office, as well as many regulators have a very bad reputation when it comes to discrimination.  It is easy for Politicians and others to make promises.  But what will be done about this?  As Martha Spurier Director of Liberty says above “…it creates the conditions for state violence against Black people…”