Trans & The Law – Theory & Practice

I spent this afternoon at a police station in Bristol. Nothing terrible has happened. I was doing trans awareness training for the LGBT Group of Avon & Somerset Police. They are lovely people, all LGB-identified themselves, and very keen to know how they can better help any trans people that they encounter during the course of their work. It is really heartwarming to know that there are friendly, supportive people in the local police force whom I can go to if I am in trouble.

My thanks are due to my pal Annabelle Armstrong-Walter who organized the training and ran the LGB site of things, and the the folks at Diversity Trust through whom I do all of my trans training work.

Coppers the world over seem to be fond of the odd glass of beer, and after the training they dragged me off to the pub. While we were there a very practical example of what I had been talking about turned up. The Bristol Post published this article about a local trans woman who has been sentenced to 12 weeks detention in a male prison. My trainees were uniformly horrified that this could happen, but the case very clearly highlights the shortcomings of UK law on trans issues as it currently stands.

Because most mainstream journalists are clueless when it comes to trans issues the reports in the papers are not a lot of help. Until people get back to work in the morning I won’t know the full facts of the case. However, it is pretty clear that Tara Hudson identifies as a woman, lives as a woman, and has had some medical treatment to help her to do so.

In most cases trans people have no need to make any legal change to their paperwork. You can change your name just by saying you have done so; bank accounts and the like should not require any sort of legal document (though many do and something more official can be obtained very cheaply). However, when it comes to interaction with the legal system, you do have a legal gender. For most purposes that is the gender specified on your birth certificate. That can be changed by obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate. If you have not done that, then the courts will still treat you as the gender that you were assigned at birth, no matter how long ago you transitioned or what medical treatment you have had.

The trouble is that the Gender Recognition Act is woefully unfit for purpose. It does nothing for non-binary people or intersex people (neither of whom have any legal existence under UK law); it does nothing for people under the age of 18; and it even fails many people who have transitioned because for various reasons they do not wish, or are unable, to obtain a Gender Recognition Certificate.

A large part of the problem is the expense and bureaucratic nightmare involved in making the application. The behavior of the Gender Recognition Panel, a group of cisgender people whose job it is to oversee applications, is also a major problem. I’ve heard horror stories about people having their applications questioned or rejected for fairly trivial reasons.

As I said above, I don’t have the full facts of Tara’s case (in large part because “things written in tabloid newspapers” and “facts” tend to have very little overlap). What I can say is as follows:

1. If Tara does have a Gender Recognition Certificate then the Magistrates’ Court in Bath has made a very serious mistake.

2. The Prison Service is not daft — it has encountered issues like this before — and there are protocols that should be gone through before Tara’s sentence is finalized.

3. Although Tara did plead guilty, it is not clear whether a custodial sentence was mandatory. Given what Tara’s mother has told the press, I’m guessing that Tara’s lawyer did not think it was. This may be another avenue to explore.

I hope to have more to report tomorrow, but it is another busy day as in the evening I have to be at Waterstones in Bristol for Juliet Jacques’ signing tour. I rather suspect that this case will be a topic of conversation there too.

In the meantime, I would be very grateful if as many of you as possible could sign this petition.

3 thoughts on “Trans & The Law – Theory & Practice

  1. If she has a gender recognition certificate, then she will be placed in a female establishment. However, even if the process is not sufficiently advanced for that, the prison service still recognises that it may be appropriate to place someone in the estate of their acquired gender. It is also acknowledges that some people have valid reasons for not applying for a certificate when eligible, and will seriously consider any request to be placed in the appropriate establishment.

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