Five judges are reprimanded for racist comments

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The Independent Online
FIVE JUDGES have been reprimanded for making racist comments, the Lord Chancellor revealed yesterday at a launch of an anti-discrimination guide for the judiciary.

Lord Irvine of Lairg said he had ordered two of the offending judges to go on race awareness courses after they madetheir remarks; among the list of contentious comments was an insult to the Vietnamese community and a statement that branded all well-educated Nigerians as criminals. Another of the judges to be reprimanded is Judge Graham Boal, who was forced to apologise publicly after making an offensive joke at a legal dinner earlier this year.

Lord Irvine said he had set up a team of officials to investigate complaints against judges when he came into office, and stressed that he personally oversaw every allegation of racism.

Although the five complaints upheld since May 1997 involved only a tiny proportion of the judiciary, Lord Irvine showed a clear commitment to zero tolerance, warning that any inappropriate behaviour by judges caused disproportionate damage to the reputation of the legal profession. The guide for judges on treating people from ethnic minorities fairly would help avoid similar mistakes, he said.

The Equal Treatment Bench Book informs judges that there is no evidence to suggest that black people commit more crime than white people; it also offers advice on cultural issues such as forms of address, clothing, religion and customs.

Judges are also warned that "coloured" is "an offensive term that should never be used". "Paki", "negro", "negroid" and "ethnics" are also unacceptable. Advice is given on granting people the wish to wash their hands, feet or other body parts or take shoes off before taking an oath in court.

They should also ask people how they want to be addressed, how to pronounce their name and how to spell it, according to the guide. And Asian men should not be addressed by their religious name only, such as Mohammed, Allah or Singh.

Published by the Judicial Studies Board, which organises training for judges, the guide, says: "Justice in a modern and diverse society must be `colour conscious' and not `colour blind'. This means that those who administer justice must be aware of, and responsive to, the differences among people who come to court in any capacity while remaining fair, independent and impartial."

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham of Cornhill, said he was convinced there were no "card-carrying racists" among the judiciary, but he warned that ignorance about cultural differences could lead to inappropriate behaviour.

Lord Irvine said he was also setting up a research programme to examine the experiences and perceptions of people from ethnic minorities coming into contact with the courts. And he promised to take action if the research revealed "respects in which our courts fall short of the scrupulously impartial treatment of individuals".

A survey in 1994 revealed that only 11 per cent of young black people believed that judges treated everyone fairly, compared with 25 per cent of young white people.

The book will be sent to every judge and will be supplemented by sections on disability, gender and sexual orientation in the next few months.


Wrong: Coloured - an offensive term that should never be used.

Right: Black and Asian - acceptable to people of African or Caribbean origin or from Asia. But Asian should be used with care as many people prefer to identify themselves with reference to their country.

Wrong: Ethnics - a deeply offensive term that should never be used.

Right: Racial minorities - acceptable with wider scope than black.

Wrong: half-caste - not acceptable.

Right: Mixed race.

Wrong: Oriental.

Right: Chinese, Malaysian Vietnamese etc.

Wrong: Mohammedan. Right: Muslim.

Wrong: Paki.

Right: Pakistani.