Race discrimination takes many forms and can be both conscious and unconscious. In an example of the latter, a mixed-race woman who was subjected to humiliating treatment by police officers triumphed in her marathon fight for compensation.
The woman was arrested in the street in 2009 on suspicion of assault and a public order offence. Two white friends who were with her were not arrested immediately. Her hands were cuffed behind her back for no good reason and, at the police station, her requests to use the toilet were not treated with appropriate urgency.
She was subsequently cleared of any wrongdoing and launched proceedings against the police force concerned. A judge found that she had suffered unconscious racial bias and awarded her damages of £5,000. She challenged the award in the Court of Appeal, arguing that it did not fairly reflect the indignity she had endured.
In increasing her award to £14,000, the Court noted that she had travelled a long and hard road to achieve vindication more than eight years after the incident. It found that the upset and humiliation caused by the failure to give her urgent access to toilet facilities was particularly serious. It was very probable that an unthinking assumption had been made that, as a woman of mixed race, she was likely to be more demanding and difficult when dealing with the police.
The discrimination she suffered was not of the most serious kind, however, in that it was unconscious and was not accompanied by goading, lewd comments or abuse. The police investigation of the incident was appropriate, genuine, properly motivated and lawful and officers concerned appeared to have been at pains to act in a way which was not oppressive or arbitrary. The force was nevertheless ordered to pay the very substantial legal costs of the case.