Don’t say ‘immigrant’ or ‘postman,’ judges warned in new court language guidance
An extract from guidance on appropriate court language argues that in order for there to be “true equality,” judges must adapt the way they address defendants. Judges are now being urged to refrain from using certain words, including ‘ethnic minorities,’ ‘afro-Caribbean’ and ‘transsexual,’ while ‘postman’ should be replaced by ‘postal operative.’
The instructions are an update to the 422-page Equal Treatment Bench Book, published by the Judicial College, the body in charge of training judges. The changes were led by Appeal judge, Dame Anne Rafferty. The new version explains that “using acceptable terminology avoids offending the relevant party or witness and gives confidence that they will receive a fair hearing.”
The guidelines also call for judges to be “slow” when it comes to jailing women, as imprisonment is believed to be more damaging to females than males. Going against the long-standing social norm whereby all are treated equally before the law, the guidelines suggest the opposite. “True equal treatment may not always mean treating everyone in the same way,” the new version reads.
The Bench Book adds: “Women remain disadvantaged in many public and private areas of their lives. The previous life experiences of women offenders, their reasons for offending, their offending patterns, the impact of custodial sentences on themselves and their dependants, and the long-term effect of prison sentences all tend to differ between men and women.”
If judges deem it necessary to hand a jail sentence to defendants, they should consider suspending it, the guidance advises. It reads: “The impact of imprisonment on women, more than half of whom have themselves been victims of serious crime, is especially damaging and their outcomes are worse than men’s.”
A section on transgender people claimed the term ‘transgender’ should be dropped because “some people find it stigmatizing.” Transgender defendants are often ‘highly apprehensive’ about being jailed, the guidance adds.
In these cases courts should be taken in a private session and/or publicity on the trial restricted, less the evidence given expose the defendant for having a sex change.
Judicial College chief Lady Justice Rafferty said in a foreword to the book: “The profound desire of the team responsible for this revision is that all those in and using a court leave it conscious of having appeared before a fair minded tribunal.”
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