Ethnicity in the justice system: evidence review

Review of quantitative evidence relating to ethnicity in the justice system in Scotland.

This document is part of a collection

1. Introduction

1.1 Background and purpose

This paper presents a review of quantitative evidence relating to ethnicity in the justice system. Drawn from a range of data sources, its aim is to present analysis that compares the position of people from different ethnic groups on several justice-related topics in Scotland. These broadly include:

(i) perceptions of crime, safety, the police and the justice system,

(ii) experiences of crime,

(iii) people's interactions with different elements of the justice system when they come into contact with it, and

(iv) the ethnic composition of the justice workforce.

Information is presented to focus on how findings differ between ethnic groups and, where available, how these have changed over time.

This is the first time that such data has been collated and published together. This paper has originated from the work of the Cross Justice Working Group on Race Data and Evidence and will inform the Group's future activities.

The Cross Justice Working Group on Race Data and Evidence was set up in October 2020. Its membership includes representatives from the Scottish Government, all the main justice organisations, community groups and academia.

A separate working group, The Cross Justice Working Group on Race and Workforce, was set up to look specifically at the issue of diversity in the justice workforce. Chapter 5 in this paper focusses on workforce and is relevant to the workforce group as well as the data and evidence group.

1.2 Ethnicity classifications

Ethnicity is a complex and emotive issue. There is a lack of consensus about what constitutes ethnic background or an 'ethnic group'. It can mean different things to different people, which can depend on the context or situation, and understanding of the term evolves over time. It encompasses aspects of identity, race, ancestry, history, culture, and it is very diverse.

The Scottish Government has published guidance, for all public authorities, in order to promote consistency in the collection and reporting of ethnicity data. The Scottish Government has developed harmonised ethnicity questions, which are identical to Scotland's Census 2022 questions, with the addition of a prefer not to say option. These harmonised questions are used in Scottish Government surveys, such as the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey. Table 1.1 shows the ethnicity categories used in Scotland's Census 2022.

Table 1.1: Ethnicity categories used in Scotland's Census 2022

Category A. White


  • Scottish
  • Other British
  • Irish
  • Polish
  • Gypsy / Traveller
  • Roma
  • Showman / Showwoman
  • Other white ethnic group, please write in

Category B. Mixed or multiple ethnic groups


  • Any mixed or multiple ethnic groups, please write in

Category C. Asian, Scottish Asian or British Asian


  • Pakistani, Scottish Pakistani or British Pakistani
  • Indian, Scottish Indian or British Indian
  • Bangladeshi, Scottish Bangladeshi or British Bangladeshi
  • Chinese, Scottish Chinese or British Chinese
  • Other, please write in

Category D. African, Scottish African or British African


  • Please write in (for example, Nigerian, Somali)

Category E. Caribbean or Black


  • Please write in (for example, Scottish Caribbean, Black Scottish)

Category F. Other ethnic group


  • Arab, Scottish Arab or British Arab
  • Other, please write in (for example, Sikh, Jewish)

The data presented in this report is drawn from a variety of sources and the ethnicity categories used in these data sets are not always consistent. Not all data has been gathered or reported using the 2022 census categories. Justice organisations in Scotland have agreed to adopt the 2022 census ethnicity classifications for their data collection, as soon as is practicably possible.

In the 2011 Scottish Census, the vast majority, 91.8%, of people identified as 'White: Scottish' or 'White: Other British'. 4.2% identified as belonging to a white minority ethnic group, such as Polish, Irish, Gypsy/Traveller or 'White: Other'. 4% of the population identified as, Asian, African, Caribbean or Black, Mixed, or Other ethnic group.

The term 'minority ethnic' is used in this report to refer to people identifying as any ethnic group other than White Scottish/White Other British.

As minority ethnic groups make up a small proportion of Scotland's population, the number of people from these groups within the justice system and the justice workforce are often very small. This could lead to statistical unreliability when analysing data and hinder publication of figures because of the need to avoid identification of individuals. Combining categories can overcome the issue of small numbers. However, it is not an ideal solution as it can hide disparities that occur between each of the separate ethnic groups.

The approach to reporting ethnicity in this paper, takes into account, the diversity of ethnicity categories and terminologies used by organisations, and the need to report data in a consistent way. It also attempts to balance the need to combine categories due to small numbers, whilst still endeavouring to show differences between minority ethnic groups.

1.3 Data sources

This paper presents data from a range of sources, including research and statistics produced by the Scottish Government; management information from Police Scotland; hate crime statistics produced by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service; and workforce information published by justice organisations. Further information on the data included in the report is provided in Appendix A.

For the most part, the statistics presented in this paper have already been published and links to the original data are provided throughout. The exception to this is new ethnicity analysis based on pooled data from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) which has not previously been published elsewhere.

Scottish Crime and Justice Survey pooled sample

The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) is a large-scale social survey which asks people about their experiences and perceptions of crime in Scotland. New ethnicity analysis of the SCJS using a pooled sample is presented in this report. This is the first time such analysis has been carried out and published.

The number of SCJS respondents from a minority ethnic community in an individual survey year is too small to do meaningful analysis on. To overcome this, a new analysis of the SCJS findings has been undertaken, combining the nine surveys conducted between 2008/09 and 2019/20 comprising 90,000 interviews. This means that analysis by ethnicity is possible for the first time. However, it is worth noting that pooling data from multiple surveys in this way has some limitations. It is not possible to present trend data to explore change over time. Some respondents will have been answering questions relating to experiences in 2008/09 and others as late as 2019/20. It is recognised that perceptions may well have changed over the time period which will not be able to be picked up in the analysis. It should also be noted that the most recent data included is from the 2019/20 survey which took place prior to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions, and the Black Lives Matter movement coming to global prominence.

This is the first time that analysis of SCJS data has been undertaken by ethnicity and the approach taken will be reviewed for future analysis. It is hoped that over time it can be added to and potentially split into more than one time period to allow for changes over time to be identified. Users are also welcome to ask for further analysis of the data.

Table 1.2 shows the composition of the SCJS sample and the ethnicity categories used in the analysis. White Scottish/White Other British respondents make up 93% of the total SCJS pooled sample. Those who identify as White Minority Ethnic[1] make up a further 4.2% of the sample, therefore 97.2% of the sample identify as White. In contrast those who identify as belonging to other ethnic groups only make up a fraction of a percent of the sample. 1.5% of the sample identify as Asian, 0.6% as African, Caribbean or Black[2], 0.3% as Other and 0.1% as Mixed or Multiple. In 0.1% of the sample the ethnicity is not known.

Table 1.2 Size of SCJS pooled sample by ethnicity (unweighted data)
Ethnicity % No.
White Scottish/White Other British 93% 84,365
White Minority Ethnic 4.2% 3,790
Mixed or Multiple 0.1% 123
Asian 1.5%. 1,416
African, Caribbean, or Black 0.6% 623
Other 0.3% 274
Don't Know / Refused 0.1% 122
  N = 90,713

Findings are presented by comparing responses from the six combined ethnicity categories with the national average. Throughout the report, results are presented where a statistically significant result was found at the 95% confidence level. Results that are not statistically significant are reported as showing 'no difference' (or equivalent) to the national average. As the White Scottish / White Other British category makes up a much larger proportion of the sample than any of the other ethnicity categories, a very small difference between the White Scottish/White Other British category and the national average might be classed as significant, whereas for other categories which make up a small proportion of the sample, a larger difference is likely to be required before the result would be considered a significant difference.

At this stage, no additional analysis has been done to explore how intersections such as age, gender or area deprivation might impact on findings.

Further details on the SCJS methodology and the pooled sample can be found in Appendix B.

1.4 Data limitations

Although this paper explores differences between minority ethnic groups, it is important to highlight that these findings do not take into consideration the set of unique circumstances faced by individuals in the justice system or their individual experiences or feelings. Similarly, differences within ethnic groupings are not accounted for. Notwithstanding this, it is acknowledged that minority ethnic groups are not homogeneous and that there will be a range of experiences within minority groups as well as between groups.

The results reported in the paper, are drawn from survey and administrative data, and present averaged outcomes for ethnic groups.

It is difficult to make accurate comparisons with the overall population profile due to the age of available detailed comparator census data. Data from the 2011 census is applied in comparisons, however, this is more than 10 years old and new figures from Scotland's Census 2022 are yet to be published. More recent population estimates indicate that Scotland's population is more diverse now than it was in 2011, therefore a degree of caution is required when comparing current statistics to the 2011 Scottish Census.

In the 2011 Scottish Census, 91.8%, of people identified as White Scottish/White Other British, 4.2% identified as belonging to a white minority ethnic group, and 4% of the population identified as, Asian, African, Caribbean or Black, Mixed, or Other ethnic group.

Estimates from the 2019 Scottish Surveys Core Questions (SSCQ) dataset, indicate an increase in the proportion of the population identifying as Asian, African, Caribbean or Black, Mixed, or Other ethnic group (4.7%), and White Minority Ethnic[3] (6.7%), and a decrease in the proportion identifying as White Scottish/White Other British (88.4%).

This paper collates existing ethnicity and justice data into one compendium, presenting a picture of what is currently known about the experience of different ethnic groups within Scotland's justice system. However, there are areas where data is not available. In particular, arrest data by ethnicity is not routinely collected or published, and there is limited ethnicity data relating to court processes and outcomes.

It should be noted that the analysis and data reported in the paper, does not control for, or explore intersectionality with other characteristics of minority ethnic individuals (such as age, gender, education or socio-economic background) which are likely to influence a person's perception of and interaction with the justice system. Controlling for these effects would limit the ability to breakdown results by ethnicity which is the focus of this publication. The analysis and data presented do not by themselves explain why differences may exist between ethnic groups and these differences should not be taken as direct effects. Moreover, it is not possible to make any causal links between ethnicity and justice system outcomes.

It is intended that the evidence presented here will be used to inform further discussions and developments around improving the ethnicity evidence base within Scotland's justice system.



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