“Courts should apply more rigour in determining the relevance and admissibility of Drill due to the corrosive effect of portraying a genre of music so closely connected to Black communities as innately illegal, dangerous and problematic.”
Keir Monteith QC, Garden Court Chambers
“We should be ‘seriously concerned about what’s happening in our courtrooms.… Even a cursory review of the case law suggests that, on the whole, the courts have taken an uninformed and dismissive attitude towards the prejudicial effect of rap music, while vastly overestimating its probative value”
Dr Abenaa Owusu-Bempah, London School of Economics
Resources for lawyers: Find expert witnesses and explore legal scholarship, webinars and guidance on how to scrutinise and challenge rap evidence.
Spotlight on law scholarship
Criminal Law Review publications that lawyers should consult when rap material is sought to be adduced.
The Irrelevance of Rap
Abenaa Owusu-Bempah (2022), Criminal Law Review (no. 2):130-151
This article explores the question of whether (and when) rap music is relevant evidence of a crime, and how this has been assessed by the courts in England and Wales. Particular consideration is given to the courts’ assessment of factors which can affect the probative value of rap, as well as the way in which one’s views and experiences may inform determinations of relevance. It is argued that the courts have taken a relaxed and uninformed approach to the assessment of the relevance of rap, and that, if rap is to be admissible evidence, a more rigorous approach is required.
Bodies of Knowledge and Robes of Expertise: Expert Evidence about Drugs, Gangs and Human Trafficking
Tony Ward and Shahrzad Fouladvand (2021), Criminal Law Review (no. 6), pp. 442-460
This article discusses a type of expert witness whose claim to expertise is not based on their formal qualifications, but rather on the fact that their work frequently brings them into contact with a certain form of criminal activity, and their experience together with that of colleagues constitutes a ‘body of knowledge’ about which they can inform the jury. This includes police evidence about rap performances and their supposed links to gang activities.
The authors argue that police officers who hold themselves out as experts need to be held to the same standards of reliability as other expert witnesses. Criminal Practice Direction 35A provides guidance for judges on assessing the reliability of expert evidence. Evidence which takes rap lyrics, performers’ gestures, etc at face value as indicating their criminal activities or gang affiliation is likely to suffer from one or more of the flaws which the Practice Direction cites as indicating that evidence is unreliable: being based on unjustifiable assumptions, flawed data, and/or inferences that have not been properly reached.
Spotlight on lawyers
The following resources help lawyers understand the various ways that rap is being used in legal cases and how to challenge it.
Garden Court Chambers London
The criminal defence team at Garden Court has played a leading role in challenging the unfair targeting of rap and rappers by the criminal justice system. In 2020-21, they mounted two landmark series of online seminars to combat racist stereotyping in the justice system. The series featured Garden Court barristers including Shahida Begum, Alex Taylor-Camara, Shina Animashaun and Danielle Manson and was spearheaded by Keir Monteith QC, an external advisor on the Prosecuting Rap project.
Series 1: Drill music, gangs and prosecutions – challenging racist stereotypes in the criminal justice system.
- Watch the full series
- Part 1: Understanding Drill, artist & expert testimony
- Part 2: Challenging the admissibility of Drill music in criminal trials
- Part 3: Drill music Injunctions and ancillary orders
- Part 4: Debunking prosecution myths: “Gang” stereotypes, joint enterprise, racist stop & searches
- Part 5: Pre-trial issues and Criminal Behaviour Orders
- Part 6: How to exclude “gang evidence” in criminal trials & challenging the Joint Enterprise narrative
- Series 1 overview
Series 2: Black Lives Matter: Challenging racist stereotypes in the justice system.
- Watch the full series
- Series 2 Introduction by David Lammy MP
- Part 1a: How the US & UK state criminalise rap and how to combat it
- Part 1b: How the US & UK state criminalise rap and how to combat it
- Part 2: Gang Mythologies and Deportation
- ‘Drill music, gangs, and prosecutions—challenging racist stereotypes in the criminal justice system’
Shina Animashaun and Russell Fraser
- ‘Rap and the State’s double whammy: Lack of expert challenge to racist stereotyping’
Keir Monteith QC
Youth Justice Legal Centre
Independent experts in Black youth music culture, digital culture, the legal use of rap evidence and/or Black language who have been instructed in cases and can be contacted if and when cases arise.
Mr Franklyn Addo
Mr. Franklyn Addo MA is a frontline practitioner, youth worker, researcher, and journalist. His expertise is in youth violence and exploitation, as well as rap music and youth cultures. He has written for the I and Guardian and is completing a book on rap music. Franklyn has for many years worked supporting vulnerable young people in contexts from education to criminal justice. He most recently managed a hospital-based programme which helps to rehabilitate survivors of violent assault in collaboration with statutory and voluntary partners. Franklyn has served as an expert in cases involving ‘gangs’, rap music, the digital domain, and colloquial language.
Dr Lambros Fatsis
Dr Lambros Fatsis is Senior Lecturer in Criminology, University of Brighton. He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and won the British Society of Criminology Blogger of the Year Award in 2019. Dr. Fatsis has given evidence both in writing and in court. He has expertise in rap music and Black youth culture, policing and the criminalisation of Black music subcultures.
Dr Anthony Gunter
Dr Anthony Gunter is a Senior Lecturer and Programme Lead for Childhood and Youth Studies in the School of Education at the Open University. Before embarking on a career in academia he worked for over 14 years in South and East London, firstly as a detached community and youth worker before taking on Project and Area Manager roles. His research interests and expertise are in the areas of: Black young people; youth cultures and transitions; serious youth violence and gangs
Dr Jonathan Ilan
Dr Jonathan Ilan [LLB, PhD, PGCHE] is Senior Lecturer in Criminology, City University of London. Dr Ilan is author of Understanding Street Culture: Poverty, crime, youth and cool (Macmillan HE, 2015) and peer-reviewed academic publications on matters relating to socio-economic marginalisation, criminal behaviour, criminalisation and street music. Having written on the risk of over-ascribing ‘gang’ identity and the problems associated with using drill music as evidence, he is well placed to provide expert opinion on these particular issues.
Dr Nicci MacLeod
Dr Nicci MacLeod is Senior Lecturer in English Language and Linguistics, Northumbria University. Dr MacLeod provides expertise on the issue of determining meaning of non-standard language, including reviewing methods for doing so and providing responses to opposing expert reports. Her latest publication, on this issue in relation to forensic linguistic experts, is freely available to access.
Dr Abenaa Owusu-Bempah
Dr Abenaa Owusu-Bempah is Associate Professor of Law, London School of Economics (LSE). Her scholarship focuses on criminal procedure, the law of evidence and criminal law, with a particular emphasis on fair trial rights. Her current research explores the criminalisation of rap music and the use of rap as evidence in criminal trials.
Mr Will Pritchard
Mr Will Pritchard is a journalist and volunteer youth worker based in London. He has written extensively about UK rap and grime, among other things, for titles including Pitchfork, The Face, The Guardian, and more. He has served as a rap expert.
Prof Eithne Quinn
Prof Eithne Quinn is based in the School of Arts, Languages and Cultures at The University of Manchester. She is the author of ‘Nuthin’ but a G Thang: The Culture and Commerce of Gangsta Rap’ and led an AHRC project on Prosecuting Rap: Criminal Justice and UK Black Youth Expressive Culture. Her current work focuses on racism and inequalities in the justice system. She has worked as a rap expert in UK court cases since 2008 and is a full member of the Academy of Experts.
Mr Ciaran Thapar
Mr Ciaran Thapar is a youth worker and author based in London. With experience working in schools, youth services and prisons, he is the founder of RoadWorks LDN, an education organisation which aims to reduce social exclusion amongst young people facing systemic inequality. His debut book, ’Cut Short’, a nonfiction story about young life and youth violence in south London, was published in 2021. He writes regularly for British GQ and the Guardian. He has contributed to 10+ criminal trials on issues relating to ‘gangs’, social media, music lyrics and colloquial language.