The Equal Treatment Benchbook and supposed gender equality

10/02/2012 21:25

I stumbled across The Equal Treatment Benchbook - a guide "for all judicial office-holders, in all courts and tribunals, both those who are new to the role and those with considerable experience" produced for the Judiciary of England and Wales. It's available online at

The section on Gender Equality caught my attention as it sheds light on one of the reasons that men find themselves discriminated against in the Criminal and Family Courts. It makes astonishing reading! It starts with seven key points describing how women are disadvantaged in society and in the justice system..... and, no surprise, there is not one mention of how men may be disadvantaged in society or in the justice system in any way whatsoever. It goes on to explain stereotyping and in fairness does mention some common stereotypes that may be unfair to men but it has already set the scene by only describing women as disadvantaged.

A little further on it explains that "Indirect discrimination recognises the need to make reasonable adjustment for disadvantaged groups (women, Black and minority ethnic groups, disabled people), the aim being to put men and women (and different racial groups and disabled people) on an equal footing." So here is the crunch - it spells out that ALL women are disadvantaged simply because of their gender!


Read on and we learn, or to be more correct, our judges and magistrates learn that girls perform better than boys at school and have been doing so since 1988 and that white British boys who get free school meals have particularly low attainment. Also boys make up 70% of children with special educational needs, are 9 times more likely to be identified with autistic spectrum disorder, have more behavioural emotional and social difficulties, account for more than three quarters of exclusions from school and are more likely to have committed a criminal offence. It is also noted that more than 80% of teachers are women.


Now, let’s just do a sense check on this. If you are male and took your GCSE's since 1988 you have been at a disadvantage in the education system but because you are not a women you are not part of a disadvantaged group. Conversely, if you are a female you have been at an advantage in the educational system but because you are a woman you are disadvantaged! Or to put it another way every woman under 40 has been better served by our educational system but is disadvantaged and every man under 40 has been less well served by our educational system but should not be considered disadvantaged by reason of their gender.


The guidance on employment is equally contrary. They first key point of the chapter states -


"Women remain disadvantaged in many public and private areas of their life; they are underrepresented in the judiciary, in Parliament and in senior positions across a range of jobs; and there is still a substantial pay gap between men and women" (my underlining).


In the detail regarding employment we are told that women's average hourly pay is 17% lower than men’s. Also that "Occupation segregation is one of the main causes of the gender pay gap. Women’s employment is highly concentrated in certain occupations and those occupations which are female-dominated are often the lowest paid." In other words, because women choose to work in certain occupations they earn less than men. And the point is? I'm struggling to understand how that makes women disadvantaged. It’s a question of personal choice isn't it?


Interestingly the Office for National Statistics has recently released figures showing that women between 20 and 29 earn more than their male counterparts. In the article below Jill Spence says that the gender pay gap has nothing to do with discrimination and it is simply that women choose a different balance between work and family.


But of course the guidance to judges is still that women between 20 and 29 are disadvantaged because on average all women earn less than men so women are still a disadvantaged group.


Let’s just have another sense check - women between 20 and 29 have been better served than men by our educational system and earn more than their male counterparts but are nevertheless to be considered by judges and magistrates as disadvantaged - because they're women.


There are many and complex reasons that male victims of domestic violence do not get fair treatment in the judicial system.  The biased and nonsensical guidance in The Equal Treatment Bench Book is one of them.