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New advice given to judges over terminology used

22 December, 2000

New guidance has been issued to judges about terminology to be used and attitudes to have when dealing with defendants and other court users.

The Judicial Studies Board, which, as part of the Lord Chancellor's Department, provides "training and instruction for all full-time and part-time judges in the skills necessary to a judge" has issued an update to its 'Equal Treatment Bench Book'.

One of the new chapters in the book includes advice to judges on terms connected with disabilities and medical conditions.

The Board suggest "that it is best not to use medical conditions as a shorthand for classifying those who suffer from them". Thus, it asks judges not use terms such as 'epileptic' or 'arthritic' but use instead 'person with epilepsy' or 'person with arthritis'.

The guidelines suggest that the term 'disabled' should not be used as a collective noun – 'the disabled' do not constitute a separate group. The phrases ‘people with disabilities’ or ‘disabled person’ are preferable. Judges should also avoid using the word 'handicapped' and use instead 'person with a disability' or 'disabled person'. They should also avoid using the term 'mental handicap' and use instead 'learning disabilities' or 'learning difficulties'. Some legislation, such as the Mental Health Act 1983, uses the term 'mental illness' when dealing with hospital or other orders, but 'person with a mental health problem' is to be preferred.

They also add that courts avoid using the term 'the blind’ or ‘the deaf' and use instead 'blind people' or 'people who are deaf' adding that other terms that can be used include 'physical disability', 'sensory impairments' or 'partially sighted'.