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English Magistrates’ Court clerks are hoping to use new human rights laws to prevent the British government from forcing them to become lawyers. The British Association of Magisterial Officers is funding an action on behalf of seven female clerks who are resisting a ruling that they become legally qualified as attorneys. The association says the policy of making all clerks under 40 qualify as solicitors or barristers discriminates against women. The case is now before the Croydon Employment Tribunal. Rosie Eagleson, the association’s general secretary, tells Law.com/uk that the tribunal will first decide whether it has the authority to hear the case. If it does have jurisdiction, it will then hear evidence and reach a decision towards the end of next week, says Eagleson. “The first ground we will argue is indirect discrimination. Women clerks in this age bracket are more likely to have children and would be more affected by having to travel to training courses at night,” she adds. Eagleson says the clerks also claim the policy breaches the right to respect for family life under the Human Rights Act. “Clearly all this extra work and late nights will have an impact on the time people can devote to their families,” she says. The Lord Chancellor’s Department introduced the training scheme in January last year. Magistrates’ Court Committees, which run local courts, are phasing the policy in over the next four years. “I have been inundated with letters from clerks complaining about this, but there are still people who haven’t put their hands up because they won’t be affected until 2004. We’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg,” says Eagleson. A Lord Chancellor’s Department spokesman says retraining will affect about 200 of the 1,600 clerks. He says having qualified clerks will make courts more able to handle future law changes. It will also boost public confidence in the courts. “We will pay for course fees, reasonable travel and accommodation allowances, and child care.” “They will be given time off to study and staff cover will be arranged. Clerks will also have 10 years to qualify, which gives them the flexibility to delay their courses if they have young children,” says the spokesman.

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