The U.K’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is following in the footsteps of the U.S and considering the use of drill music as evidence in criminal trials. Jay-Z was among the artists who recently signed a letter asking U.S lawmakers to pass the “Rap Music on Trial” bill. The signatories are seeking legislation that would make it more difficult for prosecutors to use lyrics as evidence in criminal trials.
The move in the U.K comes after a BBC study of prosecutions across the U.K. Defense lawyers and academics raised concerns that using rap lyrics as evidence can prevent defendants – the majority of whom were young black men – from getting a fair trial.
The CPS said it is not aware of any cases where drill music was incorrectly used to prosecute a defendant in the past. However, they are listening to the concerns. The BBC claims their research shows drill music is being increasingly used as evidence, alleging it incites gang rivalries.
They give the example of the murder of Lyrico Steede in Nottingham. During the trial, the court heard that a dispute between Steed and his killer had been fuelled by them insulting and threatening each other in drill music videos.
Drill Music Was Used in Evidence Against Digga D
Digga D, one of the U.K’s biggest Hip-Hop talents, was given a criminal behavior order in 2018 banning him from using certain names, locations, and themes in his lyrics.
The CPS said drill music should only be used in specific instances. Claire Lindley, a chief crown prosecutor said:
“When we’re deciding whether to use any piece of evidence in a criminal case we have to decide whether it’s probative evidence and not unduly prejudicial to the defendant. When it comes to drill music we will obviously apply the same rules.
While the BBC’s report found that young black men are overrepresented in the figures, Lindley said, “We’re really, really keen to make sure that our prosecutors don’t use any kind of stereotypes or anything of that nature.”
However, Eithne Quinn, an academic and rap expert in court cases for over a decade disagrees. She welcomes “any new guidance to prosecutors that restricts the flow of rap into our courtrooms.”
“Gang discourses are already so racially charged, producing serious racial disparities in criminal justice outcomes, as has been widely recognised.”
The BBC examined nearly 70 U.K trials from 2005 where rap lyrics were used in evidence. Often rappers were on trial. Many featured allegations of murder, and the vast majority of the defendants were young black men and boys.
Quinn would like to see changes like what Jay-Z and others are proposing. “We need something like that here,” she said.
“There needs to be a really good reason to allow rap videos and lyrics before a jury. It’s wide open to unfair and racist misreading.”