UK judges advised to use preferred pronouns for trans people

updated on 15 February 2022

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UK judges will now use preferred pronouns as a “common courtesy” in cases that involve transgender people.

This is part of the updated guidance for the England and Wales judiciary that in cases involving trans people, judges should use the pronouns and name that a person prefers and reporting restrictions should be put in place to prevent disclosure of previous names.

This change was implemented due to the high level of transphobic hate crime which is believed to be significantly underreported. The guidance also highlighted that trans people might be worried about coming into court, especially in cases where their medical history could be disclosed.

The previous version of Equal Treatment Benchbook (ETBB) published in February 2021 stated “pronouns should not be used. When referring to a person the name of the person should be used on every occasion.”

The updated guide from the Judicial College states: "There may be situations where the rights of a witness to refer to a trans person by pronouns matching their gender assigned at birth, or to otherwise reveal a person’s trans status, clash with the trans person’s right to privacy

"[…] There remains a certain mistrust of nonconventional gender appearance and behaviour, and many transgender people experience social isolation and/or face prejudice, discrimination, harassment and violence in their daily lives."

The 540-page ETBB noted that the Equality Act (2010) used the stigmatising term of “transsexual” and reinforced a person’s right to “protected information”, recognised under the Gender Recognition Act (2004). The guide states that a person’s gender at birth or transgender history should not be disclosed unless necessary or relevant to court proceedings.

It’s guidance on trans people in chapter 12 states: "It should be possible to respect a person’s gender identity and their present name for nearly all court and tribunal purposes, regardless of whether they have obtained legal recognition of their gender by way of a Gender Recognition Certificate".

Lady Justice King, chair of the college and appeal court judge, described the ETBB as a “living document, constantly updated and amended to reflect changing circumstances and to incorporate the most up-to-date knowledge”.