Socialist Worker

Institutionalised racism let Surjit's killer stay free

Issue No. 1773

The Scottish legal system was slammed as incompetent and racist by two official reports last week. The reports gave damning evidence of the way the police and courts failed to bring justice to the family of a young Sikh murder victim in Lanarkshire, Surjit Singh Chhokar.

They show that institutional racism in Britain is as widespread as ever since the Macpherson report two years ago. The right wing backlash in the wake of the report saw the police and some in the press screaming that it was 'political correctness gone mad'. But the Chhokar case has all the echoes of the case of the murdered black London teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Surjit was stabbed to death in 1998, but despite his attackers being identified by a witness no one has ever been convicted of the killing.

The Crown Prosecution Service bungled the trial of the three arrested men, said the official report by judge Sir Anthony Campbell. It allowed each of the men to be acquitted after blaming the others for the murder.

A second report by lawyer Dr Raj Jandoo looked at the way the police and legal system treated the victim's family. He concluded that 'elements of institutional racism are found in the organisation and procedures both of Strathclyde police and the Procurator Fiscal Service [the body responsible for overseeing prosecutions in Scotland]'.

The police initially failed to consider any racial factors in their inquiry. 'We failed the Chhokar family,' admitted Scotland's top legal officer, Lord Advocate Colin Boyd, last week.

But the Chhokar family were furious that last week's reports also sought to attack them and their supporters in the fight for justice. And they were angry at the attempt to smear the victim's father, Darshan Chhokar.

They said, 'It is beneath contempt to suggest that Mr Chhokar has been an unreliable witness who deliberately plays down his command of the English language. Had it not been for the determination and honesty of the Chhokar family, there would have been no campaign, no second trial and no inquiries.' The family also condemned the Jandoo report for attacking the family campaign's lawyer, Aamer Anwar. The report suggested he was a dishonest interpreter and untrustworthy.

It also criticised Aamer for comparing the case to that of Stephen Lawrence. The family's refusal to give up their fight for justice has been vindicated. But more families face such a battle while the police and courts are still riddled with institutional racism.

Families march for justice

Over 300 people, including a delegation of black firefighters from around the country, marched last Saturday for justice for all people killed in police custody.

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Sat 3 Nov 2001, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1773
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