Judicial Equality: Supreme Court Guidelines on Gender-Fair Language and Courtroom Etiquette

Language shapes our perceptions and interactions. Traditional language often perpetuates gender stereotypes and biases, which can marginalize individuals based on their gender or sexual orientation. In the legal profession, language serves as the most vital medium of communication. The words used by judges, lawyers, and court personnel carry significant weight, influencing not only the outcome of legal proceedings but also the perception of justice and equality within society.

Recognizing this, the Supreme Court of the Philippines made a landmark move to promote gender equality and sensitivity within the judiciary by issuing A.M. No. 21-11-25-SC, otherwise known as the “Guidelines on the Use of Gender-Fair Language in the Judiciary and Gender-Fair Courtroom Etiquette”. These guidelines aim to eliminate gender bias and stereotypes, fostering an inclusive and respectful environment in all judicial proceedings. They emphasize the transformation of language to be more liberating and sensitive, ensuring that all persons, regardless of gender identity, feel respected and valued.

These guidelines are now in effect and require strict compliance from all first and second-level courts in the Philippines.

Key Guidelines on Gender-Fair Language in Judical Proceedings

  • Eliminate Exclusionary Language: Do not use language that excludes or renders invisible persons of another gender or those with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC). For instance, replace “mankind” with “humankind” and “forefathers” with “ancestors“.
  • Eliminate Trivializing or Diminishing Language: Stop using terms that trivialize the stature of individuals based on their gender. For example, instead of “stewardess,” use “flight attendant“, and instead of “lady doctor”, use “physician”.
  • Eliminate Disparaging or Marginalizing Language: Avoid using language that disparages or marginalizes individuals based on gender or SOGIESC. This includes refraining from terms like “spinster” and instead using “unmarried”.
  • Foster Equal Gender Relations: Use language that promotes equality and parallelism. For example, instead of “man and wife“, use “husband and wife“, and instead of “motherhood”, use “parenthood”.
  • Quote with Sensitivity: When quoting material that contains sexist language, either paraphrase it to eliminate bias or use “[sic]” to indicate that the language is not endorsed.

Key Guidelines on Gender-Fair Courtroom Etiquette

  • Address All Lawyers and Non-Lawyers Neutrally: Address all lawyers neutrally as “counsel” or “attorney” and avoid gender-specific titles. Non-lawyer litigants, witnesses, and court users should be addressed as “Mister“, “Mrs.“, or “Miss“, “Sir“, or “Ma’am“, as appropriate.
  • Respect for Minors: When addressing minors, use their first names or nicknames to avoid diminutive references like “little boy” or “little girl“, or “hijo/hija”.
  • Avoiding Gender Stereotypes: Refrain from acts or proceedings that demean or humiliate any party based on gender. This includes avoiding comments or jokes with sexual content or those that perpetuate gender stereotypes.
  • Responsibility for All: Justices, judges, court personnel, and litigants are all responsible for observing gender-fair language and etiquette. Gender-insensitive acts should be corrected courteously but discreetly.

The Supreme Court’s guidelines on gender-fair language and courtroom etiquette are a crucial advancement in promoting gender equality within the judiciary. By adopting these guidelines, the judiciary can ensure that all individuals are treated with respect and dignity, reflecting the true essence of justice and equality.

As we move forward, it is a gentle reminder to both lawyers and non-lawyers alike to diligently observe these guidelines. By doing so, we contribute to a more just and equitable legal system where every individual is recognized and valued. Let us all commit to fostering an environment of respect, inclusivity, and fairness in our judicial proceedings.

Prepared by Cheza Biliran.