A judicial review of the Metropolitan Police’s Gangs Matrix has settled with the Met accepting that that the operation of the Matrix was unlawful and that there was a need for ‘wholesale change’.
The challenge to the legality of the Matrix was brought by Liberty acting on behalf of Awate Suleiman, a musician and writer who spent years fearing he was included on the Matrix, and UNJUST UK, a community interest company challenging injustice in the criminal justice system. Just for Kids sought and were granted leave to intervene.
The Matrix is a London-wide scheme that is said by the Met to be aimed at reducing gang-related criminal activity and violence. Criteria for inclusion in the matrix are broad and vague; there is no requirement that a member have committed any kind of criminal offence, and inclusion may be predicated upon social media activity, as well as intelligence. Once included on the matrix, a gang nominal’s data can be shared with a wide range of public and private bodies and there was evidence that inclusion can lead to a number of detrimental consequences, such as stop and search, immigration enforcement and school exclusion. The Matrix largely operated in secret. Individuals were not informed that they were on the Matrix which effectively neutered the ability of an individual to challenge their inclusion.
The Claimants argued that the matrix operated in a disproportionate manner which constituted indirect racial discrimination. As at 31st December 2021 the proportion of people on the matrix who were Black was 79%. That was significantly higher than the proportion of those convicted of any type of gang-related offence or the victims of gang-related offences and there was no explanation for that disparity evident from the broader statistical evidence.
The judicial review focused on three key grounds:
- That the operation of the Matrix was in breach of Article 8 ECHR.
- That the operation of the Matrix was in breach of Article 14 ECHR and s.19 Equality Act 2010 as there was compelling statistical evidence that the Matrix included a disproportionate number of Black people.
- That the Met had failed to comply with its obligations under the public sector equality duty (s.149 Equality Act 2010).
Days before the matter was due to be heard in the High Court, the Met settled the claim and accepted that:
- There would be wholesale change to the Matrix
- The regulation and operation of the Matrix was in breach of Article 8 ECHR
- Black people were disproportionately represented on the Matrix
- Individuals currently scored as Green, who comprise the majority of those on the matrix (65%), would all be removed
- Individuals will now be able to apply to be informed if they were on the Matrix and will only be refused for limited specified reasons, with the Information Commissioner able to review refusals upon request.
The regulation and operation of the Matrix, particularly the disproportionate representation of Black people, has been an area of longstanding concern; it has been the subject of considerable scrutiny by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, the Information Commissioner’s Office as well as non-governmental organisations such as Amnesty International and StopWatch.
This case led to the fundamental overhaul of a system, which is long overdue and marks a welcome recognition by the Met that the Matrix was not fit for purpose. The landmark concession by the Met that Black people are disproportionately represented on the Matrix represents a significant victory in the face of longstanding public concerns about race discrimination within the Met as identified by the Stephen Lawrence inquiry and reiterated by the Lammy Review.
This case has particular impacts for children and young people given the disproportionate inclusion of young people on the Matrix. Legal practitioners representing children will be aware of the wide-ranging impact that inclusion can have and as such the promised reform is much needed. One tool which those representing children may now deploy is the mechanism, which the Met have committed to establishing, by which people can apply to be informed if they are on the Matrix. That represents a significant step forward to ensuring accountability and safeguarding against the over-broad interpretation of what can be a racially-loaded term of ‘gang’ membership.
However, this case does not mark the end of the Matrix and it remains to be seen how the Matrix will operate going forward. The deletion of green nominals is a particularly welcome development, however, whether that significant reduction in numbers will trigger a more proportionate approach to inclusion in the Matrix will need to be closely monitored. Further, the Met has indicated that they will be collecting data on action taken against those on the Matrix; to date, such data has been wholly absent. It is only with the recording and disclosure of this data that the full picture of the consequence of inclusion will be capable of rigorous analysis.
Written by Adam Straw KC and Tayyiba Bajwa, Doughty Street Chambers