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Singapore judges given practical tips to deal with diversity


September 8, 2003

SINGAPORE — Judges used to making decisions in Singapore's courtrooms now have their own guidelines on dealing with diversity in front of the bench, ranging from transexuals and gays to the old and disabled, a new book said Tuesday.

A first for the Subordinate Courts here, The Equal Treatment Bench Guide takes the position that judges need to understand varied behaviour and is peppered with practical tips.

They are advised to address a transsexual who had a sex-change by the person's new gender, and not assume homosexual men are effeminate and lesbians are masculine.

In a child custody case, do not regard the mother as always being the best caregiver, says the 42-page book.

"Move away from the temptation to view fathers as the ones who have the greater responsibility to provide financially for their children," it adds.

The 72 judges can thumb through advice and reminders on such subjects as gender, race and religion as well as court decorum, physical handicaps and sexual orientation.

The unveiling of the book comes amid a whirl of changes as the city-state seeks to remake itself and shed its conservative and boring image.

Patrons of nightspots are now free to dance on the bar tops, previously forbidden bungee jumping will become an attraction at the riverfront and chewing gum will be allowed starting January after an 11-year ban.

The government recently announced it is employing homosexuals, but homosexual acts are still forbidden.

Back in the courts, judges are urged under the guidelines to allow more frequent rest periods when the person involved is old or disabled.

Acquiring a basic understanding of the main religions and customs is also recommended.

The guide seeks to "give effect to the constitutional principle that there must be equality before the law, and to constantly remind the judges of their duty to the Constitution and to the nation," Subordinate Courts registrar Lau Wing Yum told The Straits Times.

The book was prompted by people's greater awareness of their legal rights as well as changes brought on by globalisation and terrorism.

A committee of five, led by a senior judge, took nearly a year to complete the book. They received input from judges, community groups and the main religious bodies. –Sapa-DPA


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