UK: A district judge has been issued with formal advice for misconduct after he asked a female advocate in open court if she was pregnant.


Source: Monidipa Fouzder/Law Society Gazette

District judge Stephen Harmes apologised following the hearing as well as during the investigation.

The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) said, following an investigation, a nominated judge found Harmes had asked a female advocate if she was pregnant as he believed ‘she was finding the hearing difficult’. Harmes said he had asked the question ‘in an attempt to enquire about her wellbeing and whether she needed more time to consider her papers’.

A spokesperson for the JCIO said: ‘The nominated judge found that the question was a genuine error of judgment. It was not intended to offend, nor was it asked in the context of criticism or discriminatory treatment.

‘However, it was objectively likely to cause embarrassment when asked of a female advocate, and to cause offence to others hearing it. In asking this personal question of an advocate, District Judge Harmes did not treat her with respect and dignity, thus breaching expected standards of behaviour.’

Harmes ‘immediately realised his error and apologised following the hearing’.

The JCIO described the incident as ‘short and not repeated’.

It added: ‘District Judge Harmes offered a further apology during the investigation. He took responsibility for his conduct and expressed genuine remorse regarding the distress he caused. He also highlighted his previously unblemished record and positive reputation regarding his treatment of court users.’