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14 February 2023
Diversity, disparity and inclusion

For LGBT+ history month, Viljo Wilding JP shares their experience of being a non-binary magistrate and reflects on the importance of a truly inclusive judiciary.

For LGBT+ history month, I was invited to reflect on my experiences as a non-binary magistrate, particularly in light of the Lord Chief Justice’s recent announcement that several different ranks of the judiciary will all share the ordinary form of address of ‘judge’—except for magistrates, who will still be referred to as ‘sir’, ‘madam’, or ‘your worship’.

The February/March 2023 issue of Magistrate (page 34) makes the case very well for why this gender-neutral title should be extended to the magistracy, but I will attempt to add some further context to the discussion with my own experiences as a young non-binary person and magistrate.

Non-binary: what does it mean?

Non-binary people, for those not familiar, don’t identify as male or female—with some viewing themselves as a third gender or multiple genders, some whose gender identity fluctuates, and others who identify with no gender at all.

Many, like me, use the singular ‘they/them’ pronouns and prefer the honorific title ‘Mx’. Many lead successful lives, although vary rarely in public office; Owen J Hurcum, the former Mayor of Bangor, was the world’s first openly non-binary council mayor and, to my knowledge, is one of very few ‘out’ non-binary public officials.

As for the number of non-binary magistrates, well, we don’t know the answer. Despite the 2022 census including a question on gender identity for the first time, the judicial diversity statistics still report us as men or women. My own judicial HR record, for instance, still says I’m a man.

Representing the LGBT+ community in serving the magistracy

I first applied to become a magistrate in October 2019, aged 18, when I wasn’t yet ‘out of the closet’ as non-binary. By the time I was appointed in December 2021, I had started to slowly and steadily be more open about my gender identity. With the challenges of Covid-19, the (not arduous, but thorough) training required to sit, and the first year of my degree underway, coming out to colleagues was another potential hurdle.

Despite this, things have been mostly OK. A meeting with my bench chair, Justices’ Training, Approvals, Authorisations and Appraisals Committee chair, and senior legal manager was fantastic; they really get it and are all supportive. I’m proud to be able to represent the LGBT+ community in serving the magistracy.


Despite this, we still face challenges. Most of the interactions I have with people at work, in university, or in the courts involve me being called sir—even on a recent visit to Bristol Crown Court with the University of the West of England’s Law Society.

The necessity of a formal dress code for court makes this more likely; we often assume a business suit is ‘male’ and a dress is ‘female’. For those of us who don’t present according to traditional gender norms, there’s often an uncomfortable pause. At work I get referred to as “…the gentleman?” by parents speaking to their children—not out of malice, but out of a genuine confusion.

To be clear, I’m not writing this piece to complain. Most people are well meaning, polite and respectful of those different to them. Putting the politicisation of the ‘gender issue’ aside, we in the judiciary swear to ‘do right by all manner of people.’ A duty to equality, respect, and tolerance comes hand in hand with upholding this judicial oath, and this is recognised in the Equal Treatment Bench Book and in our practice in court.

This year will mark 51 years since the first Pride in London, 20 years since the repeal of Section 28 and ten years since the Marriage Act for same sex couples was passed in England and Wales. LGBT+ equality has been a slow fought battle, and I hope that this progress continues within the judiciary as in wider society.