Prison law failing trans people: the Round-up


In the news

LGBT campaigners have called for an urgent reform of the law, following the death of 21 year-old transgender woman Vicky Thompson in an all-male prison. Ms Thompson had previously said that she would take her own life if she were placed in a prison for men.

The system of locating transgender people within the prison estate has recently come into criticism after transgender woman Tara Hudson was placed at HMP Bristol, an all-male establishment. Ms Hudson spoke of being sexually harassed by other prisoners, before a petition signed by more than 150,000 people led to her eventual transfer to a women’s prison. Statistics from the US suggest that transgender women in male prisons are 13 times more likely than the general prison population to be sexually assaulted while incarcerated.

Under the current rules, in most cases prisoners must be located “according to their gender as recognised under UK law”, although the guidance allows discretion where the individual is “sufficiently advanced in the gender reassignment process.” But the case of Vicky Thompson has been said to show that “the law is simply not working. For people living for years as women to be sent to serve sentences in prisons for men is inviting disaster.”

Responding to a question on the issue, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Andrew Selous has stated that the government intends to implement “revised policy guidance… in due course.”

In other news:

  • The Guardian: The Metropolitan Police has issued an unreserved apology and paid substantial compensation to women who were deceived into forming long-term intimate sexual relationships with undercover police officers. The police force acknowledged that the relationships had been “a violation of the women’s human rights, an abuse of police power and caused significant trauma.”
  • BBC: Members of the public and journalists will be permitted to attend the majority of hearings in the Court of Protection, where issues affecting sick or vulnerable people are heard. The new pilot scheme is intended to provide greater transparency, whilst safeguarding the privacy of the people involved.
  • MPs on the justice select committee have called for the scrapping of the criminal courts charge, voicing “grave misgivings” about whether it is “compatible with the principles of justice.” The charge of up to £1,200 is imposed on convicted criminals, and is not means-tested. In its report, the parliamentary committee expressed concern that the charge, which is higher for those convicted after pleading not guilty, was creating “perverse incentives” affecting defendant behaviour. The BBC reports here.
  • The Legal Voice: The Ministry of Justice has announced that the introduction of duty provider contracts will be postponed until 1 April 2016. A number of legal proceedings have been issued, challenging the legitimacy of the procurement process. The decision has been welcomed by the Bar Council, which has consistently opposed measures it claims would “damage access to justice and the provision of high quality advocacy services.”
  • BBC: A couple from north west London have been found guilty of keeping a man enslaved in their home for 24 years, in “a shocking case of modern slavery.” The couple had “total psychological control” over their victim, threatening that if he left the house he would be arrested by police as an illegal immigrant.

In the courts

The Court found that a family of asylum seekers evicted from an accommodation centre had been exposed to degrading treatment, in violation of their rights under article 3 ECHR. The family had been left in conditions of extreme poverty, without basic means of subsistence for a period of four weeks. The Belgian authorities had not paid due consideration to the vulnerability of the applicants, who had small children including a seriously disabled daughter.

UK HRB posts

Best interests, hard choices: The Baby C case – Leanne Woods


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“No union more profound”: The US Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage

Photo credit: Guardian

Photo credit: Guardian

The Supreme Court of the United States has decided that same-sex couples have a constitutionally protected right to marry.

In the history of American jurisprudence, there are a handful of cases which are so significant that they will be known to all US law students, much of the domestic population at large, and even large segments of the international community. Brown v Board of Education, which ended racial segregation in schools, is one example. Roe v Wade, which upheld the right of women to access abortion serves, is another. To that list may now be added the case of Obergefell v Hodges.

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Conscience and cake

4495195_origGareth Lee v. Ashers Baking Co Ltd, Colin McArthur and Karen McArthur [2015] NICty 2 – read judgment here.

In a claim popularly dubbed the ‘gay cake’ case, which has attracted international attention, District Judge Brownlie of the Northern Ireland County Court held yesterday that it was unlawful direct discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation for a bakery owned by two Christians to refuse to bake a cake which had printed on it a picture of ‘Bert and Ernie’ and the caption ‘Support Gay Marriage’ .

The parties approached the claim from very different standpoints. The Plaintiff, Mr Lee, argued that Mr and Mrs McArthur refused to bake the cake because he was gay. The Defendants argued that they did not know what Mr Lee’s sexual orientation was and it would have made no difference if they had. They would have happily served him a cake of any kind. Rather, they objected to the message on the cake because they felt they would be promoting or supporting a cause which they disagreed with, going against their consciences. They would have refused to bake the same cake for a customer of any sexual orientation.

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The right outcome: Tricycle Theatre reverses UK Jewish Film Festival ban

TRICYCLE-UKJFFAs a brief update to my post from last week. The Tricycle Theatre and the UK Jewish Film Festival have settled their differences after an agreement was struck to end the theatre’s refusal to host the festival.

Despite its previously robust defence of the decision, the Tricycle appears to have entirely relented on the issue of Israeli Embassy funding. A joint statement has been published, stating amongst other things:

‘Some weeks ago the UKJFF fell out, very publicly, with the Tricycle over a condition imposed by the Tricycle regarding funding. This provoked considerable public upset. Both organisations have come together to end that. Following lengthy discussions between the Tricycle and UKJFF, the Tricycle has now withdrawn its objection and invited back the UK Jewish Film Festival on the same terms as in previous years with no restrictions on funding from the Embassy of Israel in London. The UKJFF and the Tricycle have agreed to work together to rebuild their relationship and although the festival is not able to return in 2014, we hope to begin the process of rebuilding trust and confidence with a view to holding events in the future.

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Have the Tricycle Theatre broken the law by refusing to host the Jewish Film Festival?

TRICYCLE-UKJFFUpdated | It emerged on Tuesday the Tricycle Theatre in Kilburn has refused to host the UK Jewish Film Festival (UKJFF) for the first time in eight years. The theatre told UKJFF that they must reject longstanding funding from the Israeli Embassy if they wanted to use the venue. UKJFF refused and the relationship ended.

There has already been some excellent writing: see Nick Cohen, Archie Bland and Dorian Lynskey. Cohen makes a powerful case for the decision being anti-Semitic. I’m not going to go there, although as I have been saying on Twitter, in my view this is a bad move by the Tricycle. I thought it would be interesting, however, to investigate whether the Tricycle may have broken any laws.

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Another “Bedroom Tax” Challenge Fails

Bedroom taxRutherford and Ors v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions [2014] EWHC 1613 (Admin) – Read judgement here.

At the end of May, the High Court ruled that the reduction in Housing Benefit under Regulation B13 of Housing Benefit (Amendment) Regulations – commonly dubbed “the bedroom tax” – did not unlawfully discriminate against a family with a disabled child requiring an additional bedroom for overnight careers because the shortfall was covered by discretionary housing payments.

The case involved three Claimants: Mr and Mrs Rutherford and their 14-year-old grandson Warren. Warren suffers from a profound disability requiring 24-hour care from at least two people. Mr and Mrs Rutherford need the assistance of two paid careers for two nights a week. The family live in a three-bedroom bungalow rented from a housing association and specifically adapted to meet Warren’s needs. Mr and Mrs Rutherford sleep in one room, Warren in another, and a third room is used as a bedroom for overnight carers and to store medical equipment.

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Justice Secretary wins and loses in discrimination challenge to post-prison facilities for women

Prisoners releaseGriffiths v Secretary of State for Justice (Equality and Human Rights Commission intervening) [2013] EHWC 4077 (Admin)  – read judgment.

Oliver Sanders of 1 Crown Office Row represented the Defendant in this case and Adam Wagner also acted for the Defendant prior to the substantive hearing. They are not the writers of this post.

Two female prisoners nearing the date on which they would be considered for release on licence, brought conjoined challenges against the Secretary of State for Justice in respect of the provision of ‘approved premises.’ The Claimants challenged the alleged continuing failure to make adequate provision for approved premises to accommodate women prisoners like them released on licence.

Mr Justice Cranston rejected the argument that the limited number of approved premises for women treated female prisoners released on licence into such premises less favourably than comparable men. He held that despite the likelihood of a greater geographic separation from their homes and families, the Secretary of State had not discriminated directly or indirectly against female prisoners. However, the Secretary of State had failed to fulfil his duty under the Equality Act 2010 to consider the impact of the limited provision of approved premises of women.

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