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10 March 2024
Diversity, disparity and inclusion Practicalities of being a magistrate

Read our guidance on Ramadan and how you can best support a Muslim colleague who is fasting.

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Ramadan is the holiest month in the year for Muslims and this year it runs from 10 March to approximately 9 April.

During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn to sunset. It’s also an important time of deep reflection for Muslims and supporting a Muslim fellow magistrate who you’re sitting with is part of ensuring that all colleagues are respected and valued. Due to the long hours of fasting (approximately 13-14 hours this year), the key is to be as flexible as possible with Muslim colleagues you may be sitting with, and to be mindful that other parties in the case, as well as advocates, who are Muslim may be fasting and may require some concessions.

Muslims are diverse and have a range of Ramadan habits, so not all the tips below will apply to everybody, but it’s important to be aware of the tools at your disposal to ensure that everybody fasting this month feels supported and can continue to bring their best selves when doing sittings this month.

Fasting should not interfere with everyday tasks or the core business of sitting, but during Ramadan, fasting co-workers may be tired or lacking energy during the day. This is because Ramadan isn’t just about not eating or drinking during daylight; it usually means rising early and eating late with family and friends and attending prayers late at night. This may have an impact on tiredness and concentration in court.

Read our tips for navigating Ramadan below:

1. Speak to your colleague and ask what accommodations they might need

Usually, the first ten days are the hardest. If you have colleagues who will be fasting, ask them if they might need any accommodations.

The Equal Treatment Bench Book says that “requirements of religion”—including Ramadan:

“may mean proceedings need to be conducted in a certain way, e.g. breaks, adjusted hours and order of witnesses, to allow for fasting and its impact on metabolism, the need to undertake prayer during the day.”

It says it’s important to show awareness of fasting practice when conducting a hearing during Ramadan, and make any necessary adjustments accordingly, such as offering additional breaks.

2. Be mindful of other religious commitments outside of court that will impact the sitting day

Daily prayers are an important pillar of the Muslim faith throughout the year, not only in Ramadan, but this month could be an opportunity to improve conditions for them, as some Muslims might find it difficult to take prayer breaks during working hours. Or they might need to take extra time on Friday afternoons to attend congregational prayers. If there is a mosque close by, they may choose to go there during the day. Bench chairs and presiding justices can help by making sure there is a quiet space in the court for prayers.

3. Ask whether a magistrate may be available to sit or meet in Ramadan

Magistrates may not always be available to sit at this time. As well as the physical toll of fasting, the spiritual significance of Ramadan makes it a time when many Muslims spend as much of the fasting day in prayer. Therefore, a Muslim magistrate may not wish to sit as often or at all during Ramadan.

In addition, the Eid festival at the end of Ramadan (one to three days) is a significant celebration and is a time that many Muslims will spend with family. Muslims who are working will often request leave for these days, but Eid doesn’t necessarily start on a fixed calendar date. It can fall over different days depending on the position of the moon. Be mindful that, while a Muslim may cancel or not request a sitting during the days of Eid and in the last ten days of Ramadan, which have a spiritual significance, they may not yet know which days they will be taking off.

In any case, a fasting Muslim magistrate may not wish to sit or be available to take up a short-term vacancy. Again, all Muslims are different in their Ramadan habits, but it is something to be mindful of if you are a bench chair, mentor, or appraiser working with, appraising, or mentoring a Muslim colleague at this time.

4. Read the refreshed guidance in the Equal Treatment Bench Book

The Bench Book, revised in April 2023, contains helpful and practical suggestions for accommodations that can be made for people adhering to all religions and belief systems, for all holidays, celebrations, and traditions. Refreshing yourself on how you can accommodate proceedings to suit all defendants who might need accommodations on account of their beliefs is a useful training opportunity.

It can be read in full here.