Best Use of Law

Gangs Matrix case – UNJUST UK 

Awate Suleiman spent years experiencing over-policing, including being arrested for and cleared of offence he never committed. Some of Awate’s close friends had been told they were on a Metropolitan Police watch list, known as the Gangs Matrix, causing him great concern that he too could be included and was being targeted. After two gruelling years of refusing to confirm or deny Awate’s Gangs Matrix status, the Metropolitan Police confirmed he was not on the list. Not wanting anyone else to go through the same arduous process, Awate and UNJUST joined forces to initiate a judicial review.

The Campaign

This legal action, supported by UNJUST UK and others, successfully challenged the lawfulness of the controversial Gangs Violence Matrix used by the Metropolitan Police.

It achieved a landmark ruling, arguing that the database discriminates against people of colour, with Black men and boys disproportionately represented, as well as breaching human rights, data protection requirements, and public law principles.

The secretive database is a watchlist of people who the police designate as ‘gang nominals’ based on vague criteria. Some people are added simply because they have been victims of crime or have contact with others who the police suspect are gang members. The majority (65 per cent) are considered by the police to be ‘low risk’ and yet may be subject to a wide range of ‘enforcement actions’, including exclusion from benefits, housing, and education, and increased stop-and-search. Information is also shared with other bodies, such as immigration enforcement.

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awards

Prof Kamara Scott, Allan Hogarth, Dr Patrick Williams, Katrina Ffrench, Prof Stafford Scott, Becky Clarke – Gangs Matrix Roundtable at Goldsmith University November 2023

Exceptional achievements are within our reach when we stand tall on a foundation of personal integrity, work collectively, keep the faith, and have unwavering determination. This case was our first step in dismantling and transforming racist systems created and upheld by the state; and it – it feels wonderful that our feat be acknowledged by our peers. Thank you!”

awards

Prof Kamara Scott, Allan Hogarth, Dr Patrick Williams, Katrina Ffrench, Prof Stafford Scott, Becky Clarke – Gangs Matrix Roundtable at Goldsmith University November 2023

Exceptional achievements are within our reach when we stand tall on a foundation of personal integrity, work collectively, keep the faith, and have unwavering determination. This case was our first step in dismantling and transforming racist systems created and upheld by the state; and it – it feels wonderful that our feat be acknowledged by our peers. Thank you!”

The Change

The Metropolitan Police has agreed to overhaul its controversial Gangs Violence Matrix, admitting that it needs ‘wholesale change’. UNJUST and Awate Suleiman, the claimants that brought the case, forced them to concede that the operation of the Matrix was unlawful.  People will now be able to find out if they were on the Matrix and may only be refused for limited specified reasons. The Information Commissioner will review any refusals upon request.

 Changes to the Gangs Matrix will protect thousands of people indirectly discriminated against by the database on the grounds of race. Of those who are on the Matrix, 86.5 per cent are Black, Asian, or other minoritised ethnicities, and 79 percent are Black. This is a stark figure considering just 27 per cent of those convicted of offences related to serious youth violence are Black.

 At its peak in August 2017 there were 3,881 individuals on the Gangs Matrix database. Since legal proceedings began, the number has dropped to 1,933 – the lowest since the database was introduced.

The Future

UNJUST will continue its mission to address racial discrimination within policing and the criminal legal system, stimulate discussions that reimagine notions of public safety and create equity within society. UNJUST understands that achieving the much-needed systemic transformation requires an inclusive and collaborative approach that actively involves, informs and empowers all of society – particularly people and communities that are adversely impacted by racism at the hands of the state.

Who else was involved?

  • Awate Suleiman
  • Adenike Onasanya (paralegal)
  • Counsel (Adam Straw KC) and Tayyiba Bajwa (both barristers at Doughty Street Chambers)
  • Liberty
  • UNJUST Legal Group – Cyrilia Knight & Sarah Flanagan – lawyer

 Campaigners 

  • Stafford Scott – Tottenham Rights
  • Amnesty International
  • The 4Front Project

 Academic

  • Dr Patrick Williams Manchester Metropolitan University