Irish Penal Reform Trust

Uncovering anti‑Roma discrimination in criminal justice systems in Europe

29th March 2021

Fair Trials have published a report that focuses on Roma over-representation in the criminal justice systems in Romania, Spain, Hungary and Bulgaria. This report emphasises that although the criminal justice system has a duty to provide all citizens with justice in a fair and equal manner, this system actually has the potential to oppress certain populations and exacerbate existing inequalities. At each step of the criminal justice system, from arrest to detention, authorities have varying degrees of power and discretion when making decisions. Therefore, at each stage of the process, there is a possibility that decisions can be affected by negative stereotypes and attitudes which can cause harmful outcomes for minority ethnic and racial groups.

The findings from this report suggest that racist and anti-gypsyist views are normalised and imbedded within the criminal justice systems of the countries mentioned above. Individuals from the Roma community are especially vulnerable to discriminatory views and biases. These attitudes can negatively impact criminal justice decisions and outcomes. This is a widespread and prominent issue that needs to be addressed as negative interactions with law enforcement can reduce the willingness of minority populations to ask the police for help or inform authorities of any crimes and increase the belief that the justice system is biased. It can also be a humiliating or traumatising event for the person and cause tensions between minority groups and law enforcement.

Key findings from the report showed that discriminatory and abusive police practices against Roma were extensive and common. Several police officers interviewed admitted to ethnic profiling. Ethnic/Racial profiling refers to the act of targeting or stopping an individual based on stereotypical characteristics connected to a particular race, ethnicity or religion rather than reasonable individual suspicion. It was found in Spain that new officers in the police force are trained to associate certain offences with particular ethnic populations. In addition to that, it was discovered that police officers often made derogatory comments towards Roma even in the presence of a defence lawyer. The report also highlighted that judges are susceptible to implicit biases which can influence their judgement and decision process. Likewise, researchers found that lawyers were also affected by negative stereotypes of Roma.

Previous research conducted in the countries examined in this report found:

  • In Rimóc, Hungary, 35 out of 36 fines for failing to carry compulsory bicycle accessories were issued against Roma.
  • In Bulgaria, Roma were twice as likely to be the victims of physical police violence than non-Roma Bulgarians.
  • In Romania, a recent survey found that 72% of the public said they mistrusted Roma.
  • A report in Spain stated that the Roma population (60%) were the group that suffered the highest rate of police stops on public streets.

Key recommendations:

  • Implement mandatory anti-discrimination and cultural awareness training for police officers, judges and prosecutors.
  • Defence lawyers must address discrimination and adopt a more active role to help tackle the systemic racism endured by their Roma clients.
  • Incorporate Roma representation in the police force and other criminal justice institutions. For example, in Romania, police academies have reserve spaces for Roma recruits.

Read the Uncovering Anti‑Roma Discrimination in Criminal Justice Systems in Europe report on the Fair Trials website here.

General information on the Roma community in Ireland can be found here.

Respect for rights in the penal system with prison as a last resort.



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