JK Rowling’s ‘unfounded’ comments have no place in Australian courts
Following comments made by the author of the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling, a Chief Justice has issued a strong statement: Australian courts which adopt open and respectful procedures cannot be influenced by the likes of her.
News from Chief Justice Chris Kourakis announcing South Australia would follow Victoria and Queensland in having its courts take great care to use preferred pronouns and names should have been supported and welcomed across the country.
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Instead, a tweet from self-professed “women’s rights advocate” and author Joanne Rowling fired off comments that at best questioned the use of the practice notes but, at worst, made “uninformed” and unwelcome judgements of Australian courtrooms.
The new practice note, which came into effect this month, provided guidance to legal practitioners and self-represented litigants on how to provide clarification of their names and gender pronouns.
In the statement, Chief Justice Kourakis said practitioners may consider the gender pronouns of counsel, parties, witnesses, interpreters, and other solicitors and should feel welcome to provide the court with information as to preferred pronouns and titles.
In the tweet, responding to an article in The Australian, Ms Rowling claimed the note was “state-sanctioned abuse” as “female victims of male violence are further traumatised by being forced to speak a lie”.
Chief Justice Kourakis clarified victims would not be asked to address an accused person in a way that causes distress.
“Unfortunately, Ms Rowling has misunderstood the protocol.
“It does no more than allow lawyers and others to inform the court of the correct pronunciation of their name and their preferred gender pronouns so that proceedings are conducted respectfully.
“However, the presiding judicial officer retains control over all forms of address used in court,” Chief Justice Kourakis clarified.
Chief Justice Kourakis added he would prefer “social media commentators took the time to properly inform themselves before pressing the send button”, but his main concern was informing the public that Ms Rowling’s “anxiety is completely unfounded”.
Rather than let it lie, Ms Rowling fired off a second tweet.
This time taking advantage of X’s (formerly Twitter) new wordcount limit, Ms Rowling’s rant included a claim that Chief Justice Kourakis only responded “after [the issue] was raised publicly” and took aim at there being “no such exemption” included in the practice note.
Ms Rowling claimed a victim would be “considered guilty of disrespect” if they were to use the incorrect pronoun while everyone else in the courtroom did, and cited an example of a 60-year-old woman who apparently was chided by a judge for “bad grace” when she refused to refer to her attacker in their correct pronouns.
Seemingly then going further than the scope of the practice note, Ms Rowling said it does not acknowledge a “clear clash of rights” in the sexual and violent crimes committed by men against women.
“The woman has a right – indeed, a legal duty – to speak truthfully about the male violence/sexual violence to which she was subjected.
“Meanwhile the practice note says that court officials should respectfully use female pronouns for the attacker if he says he identifies as a woman,” Ms Rowling wrote.
The author added that “millions of women” are losing confidence in the legal systems and finished with a focus on Chief Justice Kourakis’ use of the word “anxiety” in his statement.
“In the very place where they go to seek justice, a woman may now be obliged to listen to court officials asserting they were raped or beaten by a fellow woman,” Ms Rowling said.
“Such women are not merely ‘anxious’, they are furious, about the apparent inability of certain men, judges or not, to understand how dystopian this situation seems to those of us who have suffered male sexual violence.”