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THE TRADE union for court clerks is threatening to sue the Government for sexual discrimination.
The threat of legal action follows the introduction on 1 January of new rules requiring court clerks to get a qualification as either a barrister or a solicitor.
The Association of Magisterial Officers (AMO) - the trade union which represents staff in magistrates' courts - says it will be harder for women with childcare responsibilities to comply with the new regulations.
The union is demanding from the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) a detailed breakdown of the age and gender of court clerks.
AMO believes the results of the questionnaire will provide extra evidence to base a legal case on the grounds of sexual discrimination.
AMO general secretary Rosie Eagleson says: "The change in qualification requirement is both unnecessary and discriminatory, as I'm sure the answer to the questionnaire will confirm.
"Given the likely effect on a substantial number of competent, qualified and highly experienced staff, it is both remarkable and bizarre that the LCD has offered no acceptable justification for the change on operational grounds.
"It is difficult not to suggest that the change simply panders to some form of misplaced professional snobbery.
"There is already a clear indication that those with family responsibilities, many of whom are women, will be particularly hard hit.
"Significant numbers of our members will be forced to make an invidious choice between family responsibilities and their career."
An LCD spokesman says: "If there is any challenge on discrimination grounds we will be strongly contesting it. The LCD has put together a very generous package to help those court clerks who are not currently qualified."