It is to the credit of the judicial system that Richard Hollingworth felt obliged to stand down from his post as a deputy district judge after making, in open court, disparaging comments about an Asian female victim. Told that Deepa Patel might not be able to attend Preston magistrates court at short notice because of employment commitments, the judge demurred. “It won’t be a problem,” he said. “She won’t be working anywhere important where she can’t get the time off. She’ll only be working in a shop or an off-licence.” Asked to explain, he went further: “With a name like Patel, and her ethnic background, she won’t be working anywhere important where she can’t get the time off. So that’s what we’ll do.”
The first hopeful element in this lamentable saga is that Rachel Parker, the prosecutor, then refused to continue. “I am professionally embarrassed. I cannot prosecute this case,” she told him. The second is the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service to lodge an official complaint. The third is that the judge’s additional position officiating in immigration cases is now to be considered by Lord Justice Gross, the senior presiding judge for England and Wales.
But there the comfort ends. For the case again throws a harsh light on the unsatisfactory progress being made by the judiciary in addressing the requirements of diversity in British society. This starts with concern about the way cases involving minority defendants are disposed of.Research released last year by the Ministry of Justice suggested that black and Asian defendants were almost 20% more likely to be jailed than white, while defendants of Afro-Caribbean origin were found to be receiving sentences seven months longer on average than white counterparts.