Why Magistrates Won't Be Asked to Look 'Sober and Respectable'; Dress Rules Show Cultural Bias, Says Report Backed by Irvine

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Byline: STEVE DOUGHTY

MAGISTRATES should no longer be asked to look sober and respectable, the Lord Chancellor has ruled.

The traditional requirement on how a JP should dress shows 'cultural bias' and could give offence, Lord Irvine's officials say.

Both words are to be outlawed from the rulebooks laid down by local magistrates' committees which choose those who sit on the bench.

The shake-up follows an 'equality report' drawn up by a group of officials and advisers. It also called for quotas for 'underrepresented groups' on the bench and assurances that no applicants will be barred on the grounds that they have criminals in their family.

The political correctness also extended to a discussion of whether it was 'discriminatory language or cultural bias' to send out forms asking would-be magistrates to give their surname.

However, the report recorded: 'It was felt that this was not something that any particular group would be offended by.' The first set of new guidelines for recruitment of JPs, purged of prejudicial language, will appear in April.

The Lord Chancellor's Department has agreed that the rewritten handbook will include new guidance on dress codes.

The equality report warned: 'We recommend that any dress code should be rigorously checked for cultural bias, as terms like "sober" or "respectable" are likely to mean very different things to different people and are a minefield for prejudice and assumption.' Concerns that ethnic minorities could lose out because of other 'key qualities' demanded of magistrates are voiced in the report.

One worry is the requirement of magistrates that 'there should be nothing in their private or working life or in their past, or to their knowledge in that of their family or close friends, which, if it became generally known, might bring them or the magistracy into disrepute or call into question their integrity'. …