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7 April 2022
Diversity, disparity and inclusion Practicalities of being a magistrate

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

The month of Ramadan this year runs from 2 April to approximately 3 May. It is the holiest month in the year for Muslims, who abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset.

Ramadan is also an important time of deep reflection for Muslims, and supporting a Muslim fellow magistrate you are sitting with is part of ensuring all colleagues are respected and valued. Due to the long hours fasting (approximately 15 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.

It is important to note that Muslims are diverse and have a range of Ramadan habits, so not all the tips below will apply to everybody, but it is important to be aware of the tools at your disposal to ensure that everybody fasting this month feels supported and is able to 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 only 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, eg 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 that a bench should seek to show awareness of fasting practice when conducting a hearing during Ramadan, and making any necessary adjustments accordingly, e.g offering additional breaks.

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

Some workers might have additional religious commitments during Ramadan. It may be especially important to perform prayers on time through the week, or to take extra time on Friday afternoons to attend congregational prayers. If there is a mosque close by, workers may choose to go there during the day. Bench Chairs and PJs can help by making sure there is a quiet space in court for prayers.

  1. 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 in the month of April.

In addition, the three-day Eid festival at the end of Ramadan is a significant celebration, and is a time that many Muslims will spend with family. During the course of employment, Muslims will often request leave for these days, but Eid doesn’t necessarily start on a fixed calendar date. It can fall over different days relating to 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, they may not 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.

  1. Read the refreshed guidance in the Equal Treatment Benchbook, for accommodations that can be made for all religious and spiritual holidays, traditions and celebrations

The Benchbook, revised in December 2021, 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.