Macpherson highlighted that the first investigating team on the murder case failed 'to recognise and accept racism and race relations as a central feature of their investigation'. He believed that the then-current definition of a racial incident was potentially ambiguous and so he introduced a broader classification of racially motivated crime whereby a racist incident became defined as "any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim or any other person" (Macpherson, 1999: recommendation #12).
The police failed to recognise the murder as a racist attack despite the fact that all of the victims of the incident – including the family, and Stephen Lawrence's best friend and witness to the murder, Dwayne Brooks – saw the attack as racially motivated. The new definition is designed to ensure that the police take full account of not only their own perceptions of the incident, but those of the victim and other witnesses alleging the incident as racially motivated.
A further proposal was also considered by Macpherson after evidence had been obtained from a police surveillance video showing some of those accused of Stephen Lawrence's murder acting in a violent manner and using racist language towards Mr and Mrs Lawrence. The proposal aimed to make the use of racial language and behaviour in private a criminal offence. 'Private places' would include the home but also extend to venues such as clubs and public meeting places. However this proposal proved controversial with the government.
Critics have said this is a contravention of an individual's human right to freedom of expression. But the government has said it might change the law in particular cases such as where a neighbour hurls racist abuse at another through a shared wall. Concrete action has already been taken on one of the report's key proposals – strengthening the 1976 Race Relations Act. The report called for a toughening of the Race Relations Act to make police officers vulnerable to compensation claims if they are found guilty of discrimination.
At present they are exempt from such a process. If implemented, courts could award damages of up to i?? 500,000 for loss of employment or aggravated damages. This was a significant reform as it gave the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), powers to launch investigations into police accused of racial misconduct. The new law, which was secured from April 2001, extended the act to bring public authorities and bodies within the scope of the law.
It required major central and local government bodies, the police and educational establishments to ensure their workforce reflects their communities, and that policies and practices do not indirectly discriminate. Various forms of race-awareness training have been on the agenda of police forces in the UK for many years. Scarman's report called for training aimed at 'an understanding of cultural backgrounds of ethnic minority groups' and was satisfied that improvements were being made.
Macpherson was unhappy with the true success of his proposal. He found that 18 years after Scarman's report, 'not a single officer questioned before us in 1998 had received any training of significance in racism awareness and race relations throughout the course of his/her career' (Macpherson, 1999:30). So Macpherson called for more development of this race-awareness training in the police service (recommendations 48-54) to ensure that training courses developed the understanding that good community relations are vital for good quality policing.
He stressed that there should be independent and regular monitoring of training within all police services to test both the operation and success of such training programmes. But while noting the failure of police training, he provided little analysis as to why it had failed. If the issue was simply to increase the contact between police and ethnic communities, then progress should have been outstanding. The fact that they failed suggests that some important factors were overlooked not only by Scarman in 1981 but also by Macpherson in 1999.
As well as recommendations relating to the police, the Macpherson report also proposed legal changes to the law. The most controversial proposal was to amend the law of 'double jeopardy'. The ancient policy of double jeopardy states how prosecutors have just one chance at proving the case against somebody. It means once defendants have been found not guilty – which includes cases where the prosecution has simply not been able to prove their guilt – then that is an end to the matter.
Three of the five suspects in the Lawrence case were acquitted of Stephen's murder and the law did not allow them to be tried for a second time if reliable evidence was brought forward. Consequently, the Law Commission agreed with the proposal regarding double jeopardy; however the change would only apply to serious trials, such as murder, and only with the permission of the High Court. This change showed it had taken effect when a 10-year old black youngster named Damilola Taylor was followed home by some white youths and brutally beaten up and killed.
Those accused of the boy's murder were also acquitted but were then re-trialled after a young girl later came forward with fresh viable evidence. Stop and Search is a key cause of conflict between the police service and ethnic minorities. Macpherson accepted the reasoning behind the use of such powers in preventing and detecting crime but wished to improve the protection of those who were exposed to them. He proposed closer monitoring of stop-and-search practices suggesting that all police should record every 'stop and search' they make, and give a copy to the person stopped with a valid reason.