Race and the justice system research audit: findings report

Report summarising findings from a research audit, carried out in October 2020, to explore what research exists relating to race and the justice system in Scotland over the past decade, with an emphasis on qualitative research.

Key points summary

  • this paper presents findings from a research audit to explore what research exists relating to Race and the Justice System in Scotland over the past decade, with an emphasis on qualitative research
  • in total 72 unique sources around race and justice in Scotland were found. Of these, 32 sources were relevant to more than one topic
  • the most sources were found relating to police, crime, and victims
  • fewer sources were found for: perpetrators; children and young people; courts and sentencing and prevention activities
  • gaps, where no sources were found include: witnesses; the courts; community sentencing; licencing/parole conditions following release from prison; re-offending and re-imprisonment; and civil justice
  • based on findings from a literature search carried out in October 2020, supplemented with reports from key organisations and engagement with academic stakeholder
  • a wide definition of the justice system and of race/ethnicity was used
  • an accompanying Excel spreadsheet contains more detail on each source found


This summary report, and accompanying Excel spreadsheet present the findings of an “audit” to find out what research and analysis already exists from the past 10 years relating to Race and the Scottish Justice system, with an emphasis on qualitative data. Qualitative research can provide rich data around people’s experiences of the justice system, whilst quantitative data focuses on numbers. Although the focus was primarily on qualitative data, quantitative research, such as surveys, and reports drawing together statistical sources to provide an overarching narrative have been included within this research audit, as these are unlikely to have been picked up in the separate data audit, carried out to map the statistical/quantitative data gathered by justice institutions. Taken together these two audits aim to provide information to the Race Data and Evidence Cross Justice Working Group to inform their discussions and prioritising future work priorities. 

This is an audit not a literature review, as such the aim is to collate what sources of information exist, not to summarise what this information says, or to assess the quality of this information.


A wide definition of the justice system was included within the scope of this work, including: type of crime; prevention activities, police; courts; sentencing; rehabilitation, civil justice and youth justice.

Quite a wide definition of race/ethnicity was used for this work. In addition to non-white ethnicities, where information was available on White minority groups (e.g. White Irish, White Polish, Gypsy traveller etc.), this was included. Research relating to groups such as Muslims and asylum seekers and refugees whose experiences may be linked with the intersections between race and these other characteristics was also included.

The following were out of scope, and not included in this work: 

  • statistics (covered in separate statistics audit)
  • research from jurisdictions other than Scotland 
  • research older than 10 years (pre-2010)
  • research relating to the criminal justice system as an employer (focus of a separate working group)


A map of the criminal justice system in Scotland produced by The Scottish Government’s Justice Analytical Services (JAS - unpublished, live document produced by operational researchers within JAS, March 2020), outlining its key operational stages formed a starting point in deciding on key words for the literature search and how to organise the studies found. In addition to looking at the stages in the journey through the justice system, it was also decided to categorise research by who it covered, such as victim or offender. 

A literature search was carried out by Scottish Government (SG) Library services between 5- 20 October 2020. This was supplemented by searching publications from key relevant organisations (these included the EHRC, SCCJR, SCRA, SPA, SIPR and the SG Equality Evidence Finder), and engaging with academic stakeholder at the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research (SCCJR).  

Excel spreadsheet of findings

This first worksheet in Excel contains a summary page, which shows how many sources were found for each of the main topics and sub-topics, and what type of resources they were. This provides an at a glance summary of where there is currently a lot of research information available and where there are gaps. 

Each of the main topics, where relevant information was found, then has its own worksheet in Excel, which contains some more information on the studies found, such as a brief abstract of the work, the type of information gathered and who is included within the study. 

It should be noted that some sources have been included under more than one topic heading within the Excel spreadsheet and findings table below. For example a study that discusses minority ethnic women’s experiences of domestic abuse and the police response to it will be included under “violence against women and girls”, “minority ethnic communities interaction with the police”, and “victims”.


In total 72 unique sources around race and justice in Scotland were found and included in the spreadsheet, and table 1 below. Of these, 32 sources were relevant to more than one topic, and so were included in the spreadsheet, and table 1, under each topic they related to. As such adding up the number of sources listed under each topic will be greater than the total number of 72 sources. Where a total number of sources for a topic has been given in bold, this represents the number of unique sources for that topic.

Table 1: Number and type of studies found  

Topic/sub-topic  Number of sources found Number of different type of sources found
Victims 26 Qualitative: 13
Quantitative: 6
Mixed methods: 1
Review of existing evidence: 5
Consultation: 1
Witnesses 0  
Young people 5 Qualitative: 1
Quantitative: 2
Mixed methods: 1
Not research: 1
Perpetrators 9 Qualitative: 3
Quantitative: 1
Review of existing evidence: 3
Mixed methods: 2
Crime 38 Qualitative: 15: 
Quantitative: 5
Mixed methods: 7
Review of existing evidence: 8
Consultation: 3
Experience of crime and feelings of safety  1 Quantitative 1
Type of crime - Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWGs) 11 Qualitative: 7
Quantitative: 1
Review of existing evidence: 2
Consultation: 1
Hate crime/racially motivated violence 25 (3 of which included racially motivated violence) Qualitative: 7 (all 3 looking at racially motivated violence were qualitative)
Quantitative: 3
Mixed Methods: 7
Review of existing evidence: 6
Consultation: 2
Counter terrorism 1 Qualitative: 1
Police 26 Qualitative: 10
Quantitative: 4
Mixed methods: 4
Review of existing evidence: 6
Evidence from key stakeholders: 1 
Not research, but draws on research and statistics: 1
Police as an institution - police reform 2 Review of existing evidence: 1
Not research, but draws on research and statistics: 1
Police – diversity training within the police 1 Mixed methods: 1
Minority ethnic communities interaction with the police  8 Qualitative: 4
Quantitative: 1
Review of existing evidence: 2
Evidence from key stakeholders: 1 
Stop and search 12 Qualitative: 5
Quantitative: 3
Mixed methods: 2
Review of existing evidence: 2
Police - Taser use 1 Mixed methods: 1
Police - deaths in police custody  2 Qualitative: 1
Review of existing evidence: 1
Courts and sentencing 4 Qualitative: 1
Quantitative: 1
Review of existing evidence: 2
Courts 0  
Community sentencing 0  
Custodial sentences - prison 3 Qualitative: 1
Quantitative: 1
Review of existing evidence: 1 
Post – prison – release –  licencing/parole conditions 0  
Rehabilition of offenders 1 Review of existing evidence: 1 
Re-offending/re-imprisonment 0  
Prevention activities 1 Review of existing evidence: 1
Crime and justice as wide topic 10 Qualitative: 1
Quantitative: 1
Mixed methods: 1
Review of existing evidence:  6
Not research, but draws on research and statistics: 1
Civil justice 0  


This audit found that there are limited studies which explore race and justice specifically in a Scottish context, with most of the work being published in a UK or English context. The Scottish specific material discusses a range of factors relating generally to the justice system, most do not specifically discuss ethnicity and the experiences of minority ethnic groups.

Areas where there is quite a lot of information available

Who - victims

When looking at “who” was covered in the studies, a number of them (26) focussed on the experience of victims. These tended to be related to experiences of violence against women and girls or hate crime. Half of the studies looking at victims’ experiences were qualitative in nature, often consisting of interviews with victims.  


As can be seen in Table 1, above, crime was an area where there were quite a lot of studies available which included race.  There were 38 studies found looking at crime, most of which were focussed on hate crime (22) and violence against women and girls (11). Quite a lot of these studies were qualitative in nature, and some used a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods. 

A number of the studies relating to hate crime stem from the work of the independent review of hate crime legislation in Scotland. These tend to include race as one of a range of protected characteristics.  Studies which examine racially motivated hate crime and violence more specifically tend to be qualitative studies, often from Glasgow.  Some of these have a specific focus, such as the experience asylum seekers and refugees. Whilst most studies concentrate on the experience of being a victim of hate crime, a couple of the studies look at what works in terms of hate crime interventions and rehabilitating those who have committed hate crime offences. 

Violence against women and girls was another type of crime for which there was quite a lot of information available by race.  In most studies the focus was on domestic abuse, or wider family abuse, acknowledging the role that the wider family and not just a partner can have in perpetrating abuse.  Most of the studies focused on the experience of South East Asian women in Scotland, others focussed on women with insecure immigration status, and no recourse to public funds (NRPF), which can act as a barrier to seeking and accessing support.  Other studies looked at violence against women and girls in the general population and made brief mention of minority ethnic women and the additional barriers they might face in accessing help and services. Data was frequently qualitative, coming from in-depth interviews with small numbers of women who had experienced domestic abuse. Complex intersections between ethnicity, gender, religion and immigration status were highlighted.  


Police was another area where a fairly large number of studies were found (26). Nearly half of these (12), related to stop and search.  A new code of practice around stop and search was introduced in Scotland in May 2017. A number of the studies found were related to the new code of practice, assessing the situation prior to implementation and reviewing it afterwards. Both quantitative and qualitative reviews were conducted. It should be noted that race was not the main focus of much of this stop and search research, but was mentioned in these reports, when looking at demographics around those who are subject to stop and search. 

A number of studies (8) focussed on race more specifically by examining interactions between minority ethnic communities and the police. These studies tended to be qualitative. A couple focussed specifically on Muslims and their experiences with police and security officers in relation to counter- terrorism measures. Several focussed specifically on how the police interact with South East Asian women who have experienced domestic abuse.

Areas where there were little or no studies found

Who – children and young people

Only five studies relating to children and young people, race and the justice system were found. Three of these were from the Scottish Children’s Reporter’s Administration (SCRA) and focussed on children as potential victims in need of care and protection. Ethnicity was the explicit focus of one of the reports, and only briefly mentioned in the other two. One source found which looked the experience of young minority ethnic men in the criminal justice system is not research as such, but is the result of a project by Youth Community Support Agency (YCSA), and included contributions such as photography, poems, raps, stories and interview footage from the young men. It has been included within this audit, as it gives voice to the experiences of these young men in an area where there is a lack of research.


Fewer sources (9) were found looking at the experience of those who were perpetrators compared to those who were victims. Some studies looked at those who perpetrated hate crime, such as examining the motivations for doing so, or what might work in preventing hate crime. Some studies were based on those who were prisoners. 


No studies specifically looking at witnesses and race were found during the search. 

Courts and sentencing

Very few studies around race and the courts and sentencing process were found (4 in total).  These dealt with prison (3) and rehabilitation of offenders (1).  Of the studies found relating to prisons, 2 were quantitative in nature: the Ethnic Minority & Foreign National Prisoners Survey, conducted by the Scottish Prison Service in 2017; and a 2010 paper looking at the demographics of prisoners in Scotland focussing primarily on Catholics, which could link with White-Irish ethnicity, and some of the recommendations referred to ethnicity more widely. The third examined what motivated prisoners to commit hate crimes within a prison setting, and also compared these prisoners with prisoners who had been convicted for aggravated racism in the community. 

One paper was found around the rehabilitation of offenders, this was an international review by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on the rehabilitation of hate crime offenders, which included Scotland.

No studies were located around the courts, community sentencing, licencing / parole conditions following release from prison, or around re-offending and re-imprisonment.

Prevention activities

One study relating to race and prevention activities in Scotland was found as part of the searches carried out (on preventing hate crime). It is possible that broader search criteria might have captured more studies. A wider search was not carried out at this initial stage, where the key focus was on the justice system.  However, the lack of studies is consistent with findings from another project carried out in JAS around mapping the provision of violence prevention activities in Scotland, which highlighted a lack of published evaluations of violence prevention programmes. Given the lack of available research and evaluation around such prevention activities, it is not surprising that this initial search did not find much specifically discussing race and ethnicity. 

Crime and justice as a wide topic

Some sources were found which focussed on crime and justice as a wide topic and/or covered multiple areas (10). These consisted primarily of reviews of existing evidence. They might well provide information relating to the more specific headings discussed above, but at this initial stage have been included in this broader category. Likely to be of the most interest to the group is a paper by JAS, “Victims Taskforce: Summary of selected results from the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (September 2019)” which uses quantitative analysis to explore how the likelihood of experiencing crime and attitudes towards the justice system vary across protected characteristics, including ethnicity.  

Civil justice

No studies around race and civil justice, within the specified time period, were found. One document looked at the experience of civil law problems between 1997 and 2004, and was deemed too old to be in scope for this work.  


This audit of recent research around race and the justice system in Scotland indicates that there is not a huge amount of qualitative or quantitative research available. 

Areas where more research was found included areas which have been the focus of recent Scottish Government Advisory Groups and Independent Reviews, such as hate crime and stop and search. In such cases, race tended to be one of a number of areas discussed, rather than the primary focus.

Areas where there was a fair amount of research focussing specifically around race and justice, included around the experience of victims, hate crime and racially motivated violence, violence against women and girls, and minority ethnic communities’ interactions with the police. Such research tended to be small scale qualitative research consisting of interviews. 

Areas where no relevant research evidence was found included: courts; community sentencing; licencing/parole conditions following release from prison; re-offending and re-imprisonment; and civil justice. 

Highlighting such gaps might be useful in helping the Race Data and Evidence Working Group to consider priorities going forward. 

A full list of references for all studies found are included in the accompanying Excel spreadsheet. 

Race and the justice system research audit: findings spreadsheet
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