Judge tells soft-spoken women and scruffy men to smarten up their act

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The Independent Online

A senior judge's guide to advocacy, which criticises women lawyers for being quietly spoken and their male colleagues for being scruffily dressed, has been branded sexist and patronising.

Master Robert Turner, the author of the 21-page training manual, says that even at three feet away it is "often impossible" to hear what women barristers have to say.

But, under a section entitled "Manners maketh man", the judge praises women for their smart dress sense while chastising male advocates for their shabby turn-out. "Hot weather is no excuse for unbuttoned shirts, ties with knots half-way down to the belly button or even no jacket at all," he writes.

He warns: "Masters will never listen to an outdoor clerk who appears in jeans and a T-shirt. We have a 'dress-up' policy at the RCJ [Royal Courts of Justice] ... Certainly, the scruffy advocate seldom produces a tidy argument."

Women lawyers, whom the judge advises to "speak up" in court, said they were shocked by the comments. Susan Pape, a former chairwoman of the Association of Women Solicitors, said: "It is unjust and I would like to know the grounds on which Master Turner bases the comment." She told the law magazine Legal Week, which published the manual: "It is patronising. Both men and women can have soft voices and it is nasty to pick out women."

Master Turner, who was called to the Bar in 1958 and is the senior Master at the RCJ, also offers advocates lessons in language. He urges them to "shun the sort of jargon favoured by management consultants" such as "decontextualise", "bottom line" or "20K".

Words barristers must avoid when addressing judges include: Verily – "what does the word mean"; Humbly – "not met a humble lawyer yet"; Respectfully – "I doubt it"; Think – "not interested in what you think"; In my respectful submission – "flannel".

Master Turner, who was educated at Clifton College and St Catharine's, Cambridge, is equally adamant that the time has not yet arrived to end the traditional distinction between "my learned friend (barrister) and "my friend" (solicitor).

Master Turner, 66, also gives lessons on pronunciation. Harass, says the judge, must rhyme with embarrass and schedule should be pronounced "shedule." Latin is to be avoided where there is a "suitable" English equivalent and there is no such thing, apparently, as a "magnum opus".

In the introduction to his guide, Master Turner tells lawyers: "The Queen's Bench Masters have a reputation, justified or not, for striking terror into the hearts of young solicitors. I hope today I will be able to arm you sufficiently to face the ordeal of having to come before one of us."

Masters are civil judges in the High Court who hear applications before cases reach trial.