Judges have been told to show sensitivity to witnesses and defendants who are experiencing menopausal symptoms and ensure courtrooms are ventilated and women have cold water and access to lavatories.
A revised version of the Equal Treatment Bench Book, published by the Judicial College today, tells judges that despite increased publicity over the last couple of years, the menopause often remains a taboo subject in the workplace. According to the latest published statistics, only 32% of court judges are women.
The guidance tells judges: ‘The length and intensity of symptoms vary between women from very mild to very significant, so no assumptions should be made based solely on someone’s age.’
Judges are told that physical and mental symptoms, including hot flushes, urinary problems, heavy periods, sleep disturbance, fatigue, headaches, lack of concentration, memory problems, palpitations, anxiety and mood swings, might affect court appearances. They are advised to consider making adjustments to hearings, including ensuring the courtroom has working air conditioning or open windows, cold water, easy access to toilet facilities and frequent breaks.
The judges are also advised that: ‘A woman experiencing debilitating menopausal symptoms may be too embarrassed to tell the court that she needs it to make adjustments for her,’ and told to ‘be alert to subtle indicators and suggest adjustments without drawing attention to the possible reason’.
Welcoming the guidance, Lynne Townley, chair of the Association of Women Barristers, said it ‘provides a no-nonsense overview of the symptoms and provides practical advice and guidance on the steps that can be taken to assist anyone affected’.
The Bench Book, which is designed to increase awareness and understanding of the different circumstances of people appearing in courts and tribunals, also includes new entries in the disability glossary, advice on conducting remote hearings and reminders on the need to reduce jargon and legalese.