Two Key Questions

This article is written about women, but it could also apply to men and male only services.

As many readers will already know, the Equality Act 2010 provides for single sex services, and acknowledges that there will be times when it is reasonable for a service to exclude members of the opposite sex (para 27 Schedule 3) or to exclude on the basis of gender reassignment (para 28 Schedule 3). Evidently, it is not likely to be reasonable when someone is running a greengrocers, but it might well be when they are running a refuge or rape crisis centre and need to retain a recovery space that is female only, for example.

Today, the word “terfs” is trending on Twitter. This seems to have been prompted by a combination of factors, one of which is Margaret Atwood’s retweet of an article deemed unacceptable by the self-appointed terf-finder generals. At the time of writing, Atwood has not yet recanted, but did tweet “Read her piece, she’s not a terf” for which she was met with a barrage of comments insisting that the article did indeed bear the devil’s mark of terfery. 

The “not a terf” comment made me wonder: what IS a terf? Is the existing law a terf? And I think it reduces to these two key questions:

  1. Do you think that women and girls should ever have the right to meet or to access services where there is nobody present who was born male?
  2. If the answer to (1) is no, do you think that there is any stage in a male-born person’s proposed or actual transition where access to women’s spaces should be restricted?

Answering yes to one or both of these questions is in line with the existing law in the UK, which provides that single sex spaces are legal and that exclusion is justified where ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’ – and what is proportionate for someone who has decided in their own mind but not yet taken any physical steps at all towards transition, may not be the same as what is proportionate for someone who has socially and medically transitioned years ago.

Yet watching the terfs hashtag on Twitter, it seems that for the purists, the only available answer to either question is no. If you answer yes to either of them, then welcome to the coven – you may be horrified to learn it, but you too are among the terven. The only distance between us is which services should be restricted and how far along in transition a person should be to access them. 

For those who do, honestly, take the position that the answer to both questions must be no: you are advocating the abolition of single sex or separate sex services altogether, and therefore the abolition of some of the protections available on the basis of sex contained in the Equality Act. Anyone who wishes to advance such an extreme position must be able to formulate a cohesive argument in favour of this drastic legal change. “Shut the fuck up, terf” is not one.

Who Watches the Watchmen?

As a society we expect high standards of those in a position of responsibility. Flick through job adverts for positions in the police, prison service, and so on, and there will be phrases like “applicants must be able to show integrity” and “high personal and professional standards.”  An enhanced DBS check will be carried out, and training offered on expectations.

This rigorous procedure is a necessary element of safeguarding where one person is invested with real power over others. The power to deprive someone else of their liberty is one which should only be afforded to the most trustworthy, for obvious reasons. Responsibility for children is another.

And yet even with an enhanced DBS check, even with the checks and interviews and training and supervision, abusers and predators can slip through the net.

The use of his police powers by Wayne Couzens to kidnap and murder Sarah Everard is graphic and horrifying. But he is not the only police officer involved in abuse of women: at least 15 former or serving police officers have killed women since 2009. Just over this summer, Kevin Bentley (who boasted to victims that his position as a police officer made him “teflon”) was sentenced for 24 sexual assaults and Earling Leask was sentenced for grooming vulnerable women.

Nor are the police the only institution affected. Take for example the case of David Whitfield, a prison officer recently sentenced for demanding sexual favours from female prisoners in exchange for privileges – and in the same month, August 2021, Joshua Whitehead was sentenced for sexual assault while Jordan Jackman was jailed after he used his system access to obtain the personal details of a visitor he thought attractive. These incidents are not vanishingly rare. Clerics, teachers, caretakers and more – no matter how rigorous the checks, a predator who has not (yet) been arrested or convicted can work in these positions of power.

An unrealistic solution perhaps, in light of how many more women would need to be recruited – but if there are no safeguarding checks capable of dealing with an epidemic of violence against women, is it time to amend legislation so that only female police officers have permission to arrest and detain women, and only female prison officers may work in a women’s prison? 

Template Letter to AG re: Sam Pybus sentence

Many people have been saddened and horrified by the sentence handed down to Sam Pybus for the murder of Sophie Moss. He had pleaded guilty to manslaughter, but not to murder, using the so-called ‘rough sex defence’ that his violence towards her, in this case strangulation, had at the outset been consensual. His plea to manslaughter was accepted and he was jailed for 4 years and 8 months.

A number of people have asked how a sentence can be reviewed as ‘unduly lenient.’ It is done through the Attorney General’s office. A template letter is provided here.

Attorney General’s Office 

By email: uls.referrals@attorneygeneral.gov.uk

Date: [before 4 October 2021]

Dear Attorney General

I am writing to you to request a review of the sentence of Sam Pybus, passed at Teesside Crown Court on 7 September 2021, as unduly lenient. 

The sentence was one of four years and eight months imposed for manslaughter. Pybus had strangled Sophie Moss to death, while he was intoxicated. Although he said he could not remember what had happened, he entered a guilty plea saying it had occurred during consensual sexual activity. 

The Sentencing Guidelines state that where death “was caused in the course of an unlawful act which carried a high risk of death or GBH which was or ought to have been obvious to the offender” the appropriate category for sentencing is Category B, high culpability, which carries a starting point of 12 years custody. It ought to be obvious to anybody that strangulation carries a high risk of death or GBH. 

I would ask you to refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal as unduly lenient.

Yours sincerely

Yet More On Misgendering

This is yet another look at misgendering, in which I take a rather less robust view than Naomi – referencing her post here – as to when it might be reasonable to misgender a colleague in the workplace. (I am not looking at it outside that context, because the Equality Act does not govern how people relate to one another in the course of interpersonal relationships.)

I will use the same characters from Naomi’s blog: Jen and Liz. But in my version, Jen is not transitioning – rather, having attended an Alpha course, she has become a practising Christian, while Liz is an avowed atheist. In each case, the situation arises after a casual discussion about their respective plans for the weekend. Jen has told her colleagues that she will be baptised. It leads on to a more general discussion about religion in which, having been asked directly what she thinks, Liz makes clear that she views any religious belief as “delusional,” and refers dismissively to “sky fairies,” “science-deniers” and “medieval superstition.” (In a social conversation in which she was expressly asked, she is entitled to answer.)

Scenario 1 

In this scenario, Liz does not repeat her views on religion to Jen, and Jen does not say anything more about her faith to Liz. They continue working together, albeit with some awkward silences. 

This is clearly acceptable.

Scenario 2 

In this scenario, Liz makes a point of repeating her views on religion to Jen whenever they are together. Liz asks Jen whether she also believes in the tooth fairy, and demands to know why she is wearing a polycotton blouse when there is an edict in Leviticus 19 against wearing clothes made from more than one fabric. In the canteen, she highlights news stories about child abuse in the church or religious wars whenever Jen is nearby. When Jen asks her to tone it down, she points out in a way Jen finds belligerent that her lack of belief is just as much a protected characteristic as Jen’s belief, and suggests sarcastically that Jen practise turning the other cheek.

Liz is clearly harassing Jen.

Scenario 3 

Knowing that Liz is an atheist, Jen persistently tries to convert Liz despite Liz’s clear lack of interest, offering to pray with her, and giving her Bible study leaflets. After Liz’s picture is in the papers showing her attending a pro-choice march, Jen tries to interest her in materials including a “post abortion course” run by her church and focusing on forgiveness, which Liz finds particularly offensive because, unknown to Jen, Liz had an abortion aged 15 after being date-raped.

Jen is clearly harassing Liz, even if she was unaware of Liz’s personal history.

Scenario 4 

In this scenario, Liz does not target Jen in that she does not seek her out to denigrate her views and she does not repeat her own views to Jen directly. However, every time she mentions Jen’s name, she references their opposing views – with sentences such as “I’ll have to ask Jen, whose belief in a deity I do not share, if she can make 20 copies of that” or “Can we check if Paul, Amy, and Jen (whose belief in a deity I do not share) can make the meeting?”

Putting aside for a moment that this scenario is necessarily artificial, would it be harassment? She is not saying it directly to Jen. Her own (lack of) belief is indeed protected. There is no evidence that she is treating Jen badly; she just doesn’t share her beliefs. And yet I think that most people would agree that this is indeed harassment, because in every single interaction Liz has about Jen, if not to Jen, she uses a phrase that reminds her colleagues that Liz thinks that Jen’s religious beliefs are nonsense. Would it make a difference if she had used less forthright language about her own atheism at the outset? I think probably very little, if any.

***

I cannot see any way in which a person could ‘misgender’ a colleague behind their back, even while avoiding using any pronoun but “you / your” to their face, without falling into the same error. Every interaction about the person serves only to reiterate and reinforce the disputed issue, and to remind everyone present of the subject’s biological sex. On that basis I tentatively disagree with Naomi’s view that refusing to use someone’s preferred pronouns will “almost never” amount to harassment.

This of course raises the question as to whether requiring an employee to use preferred pronouns stumbles into the same trap. Using the same, admittedly imperfect, analogy, would it amount to requiring Liz to refer to Jen as “Jen (whose faith I share)” at all times? On balance I don’t think that it would. This is partly because employees do say – may even be required to say – things at work which they would not say outside work – such as “have a nice day” to a customer upon whom they wish nothing but leeches and misery, or “our products are the best” when their own preference is the product of a competitor. 

But it is also because, socially, pronouns have a little more fluidity than the GC view tends to admit. ‘Passing’ trans people, however few in number, have been referred to in their preferred pronouns since Lili Elbe in the 1930s, through to Christine Goodwin in the 1990s and on to today. The use of feminine pronouns among effeminate gay men has been both reality and the subject of comedy, sometimes self-deprecating comedy, for decades. Are we really to believe that a neurotypical employee who could understand that “ooh, get her” might refer to a male person would still find referring to John / Jen as “her”  impossible? And is it really coherent to say that using a socially feminine-coded name – a proper noun – is a reasonable request for a male person but using a socially feminine-coded pronoun – a substitute for that proper noun – is not?

While it is of little immediate help to employees, HR departments, or those with the protected characteristics of gender reassignment or gender critical belief, the historical tendency of the English language to develop along the path of least difficulty may resolve this over the next century or so. In 2121, the use of the singular “he/she” may be as archaic as the 2021 use of the singular “thou/thee,” retained only in local dialect or historical language, or as completely obsolete as the 1021 use of the dual pronoun (wit – we two, git – you two). Equally plausibly, in 2121, linguistics students may be studying as a sociolinguistic phenomenon the brief historic revival of the Chaucerian singular ‘they’ in the 2010-2030 period. Who knows? 

Meanwhile, at least until there is a reasonable body of case law on the subject, I think that ‘misgendering’ a specific colleague may very arguably amount to harassment. Either Naomi or I will be wrong – or, given how case law develops, we will both be right and wrong on different points and at different times. 

Protection and safety: a right or a privilege?

Guest blogger Ffion Lloyd writes for Legal Feminist on the Refugee Convention of 1951 and argues that persecution on the basis of sex should be formally recognised within it.

The 1951 Refugee Convention is a United Nations multilateral treaty, currently ratified by 148 countries. The Convention is the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, a refugee’s rights and the obligations on member states. The Convention sets out the bases upon which a person is entitled to refugee status: if they have  ‘a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group’. The primary aim of the Convention is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. In its efforts to achieve this aim, the Convention alongside the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), strives to ensure everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in other countries. However, despite these admirable aims, refugee rights are restricted due to the Convention reasons, arguably, being  outdated (as per G S Goodwin-Gill and J McAdam, The Refugee in International Law (3rd edn, Clarendon Press, 2007) 86 – 96), because there is little or no explicit protection from specific abuses that only apply to women. As argued by Charlesworth and Chaiton in The Boundaries of International Law: A Feminist Analysis “the very nature of international law has made dealing with the structural disadvantages of sex and gender difficult.” 

Historically, the protection of refugees was a matter of discretion dependent on the willingness of individual sovereign states. It included those who did not fall within any major international treaties, but who were deemed to have a valid claim to protection. In the 20th century refugee protection evolved domestically through ad hoc measures applied to new refugee groups, who were originally excluded from the Convention. This represented a positive development in human rights as it was the first of its kind to attempt to protect all refugees. Additionally, as interpretation of the Convention has varied, it has enabled countries to implement a degree of refugee protection alongside domestic laws. Nonetheless, the Convention has had fundamental flaws from its inception. One of the main historical criticisms of the Convention has been its enduring lack of protection of refugee women, who constitute half of all refugees.

Under the Convention, the Convention reasons of ‘social groups’ and ‘political opinions’ lack clarity. The Convention does not refer to sex as a ground for being afforded protection, an omission considered by some to be a failing of the Convention. The significance of this is that women are not expressly protected as falling within a Convention reason, despite  high incidences of female genital mutilation (FGM), human trafficking, forced marriages and rape cases. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines FGM as “procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons” . It is a practice female refugees confront in their countries of origin and is one of the biggest problems facing female refugees.  According to a UNICEF report (2020) 29 countries allow FGM and it is claimed 52 million females alive today have undergone FGM. However, the number of women and girls who have undergone FGM could be substantially higher, as reliable worldwide data is not available. However, because sex is not a Convention reason to recognise persecution, protection from this specific abuse is inconsistent under the Convention, even though it is recognised as a violation of  female human rights, including freedom from torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as right to health. FGM is a crime in many countries including the USA, the UK and South Africa where it is recognised as  a form of violence against females. It causes long lasting physical and psychological harm and is in direct opposition to  basic human rights

This was demonstrated in the case of Fornah v. Secretary of State for the Home Department in which Fornah claimed she could not return to Sierra Leone because she would face gender-based persecution by being forced to endure FGM. Consequently, the UK House of Lords agreed “intact” women in Sierra Leone, who had not undergone FGM, constituted a particular social group, for the purposes of the 1951 Convention. However, because sex is not a Convention reason, each FGM claim will need to be assessed on its own, to establish whether women facing FGM in that particular country, at a particular age, from a particular tribe or background, constitute a ‘particular social group.’ If not, then the woman is not protected under the Refugee Convention although she may be able to access alternative humanitarian protection.   Consequently, in my view, the Convention lags behind current global affairs because of the inconsistency of interpretation.

Baroness Hale stated in the case of Fornah that if the refugee definition was properly interpreted, it “can encompass gender-related claims.” On the other hand, despite the Convention allowing room for interpretation, under French refugee law, women who have already experienced FGM are not entitled to any form of protection. A third of the claims for refugee status in France have been made by females and of 36,720 applicants only 4,713 were granted refuge. Under French refugee law, the experience of past FGM is not regarded as constituting persecution, despite the risk of further FGM abuses. The assumed justification for this is that the mutilation is a single act that will not be repeated in the future and will not lead to further persecution. This line of reasoning was rejected in the USA in the case of Mukasey, in which the Board of Immigration Appeals held a woman who has been subject to FGM can be cut a second time. Despite this finding, France has not updated its refugee law. 

The UK only recently had its first ever successful criminal trial on FGM. In February 2019 a mother was sentenced to 14 years in prison for performing FGM on her 3-year-old daughter. This case demonstrates, although countries are attempting to protect vulnerable women and girls, it is clear more needs to be done. Despite this case being a success for female equality and basic human rights, it is unsettling that the UK only recently successfully protected its most vulnerable females. This case highlights how slow the law is on offering protection to females, specifically female refugees. 

Forced marriage has been acknowledged (in the phrase used by UNHCR) as a gender‐related form of persecution in some jurisdictions. Currently 117 countries allow forced marriages. Canada has accepted gender‐based grounds for refugee claims since the mid 1990’s, which includes forced marriage. Additionally, in TB (PSG – Women) Iran v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Immigration Appeal Tribunal held “young Iranian women who refuse to enter into arranged marriages” constituted a particular social group. Consequently, the appellant’s claim for asylum was upheld by the Immigration Appeal Tribunal as she would be persecuted if returned to Iran. Despite the Refugee Convention being written in 1951, certain countries have interpreted it to protect female refugees from specific abuses, such as forced marriages, highlighting it is possible to protect female refugees from this type of persecution. Nevertheless, despite the UK and other countries achieving great strides in human rights and acknowledging the specific abuses female refugees are subject to, it is becoming more apparent that more needs to be done. It is striking, that even post Shah and Islam UK, there is still no particular social group for women fleeing forced marriage, as the current Convention stands.  

One of the main challenges facing the protection of female refugees from forced marriages is the domestic law and customs of the countries where forced marriage is legal. It is particularly notable that women’s education levels are a high factor when it comes to the forced marriages of female refugees. Educated women are better able to recognise their experiences as abuse, while less educated women may accept it as normality. A study in 2008 highlighted urban and highly educated women in Lebanon were ‘somewhat less constrained’ by social customs and ‘would not be subject to forced marriage, and if she were, could evade it.’ Consequently, the education of female refugees is paramount in reducing the level of risk they may face of specific abuses.

In recent years, international organizations have paid increasing attention to a particular problem affecting female refugees, human trafficking. Female refugees need more international protection from human trafficking. While not all victims of trafficking are refugees, depending on the circumstances, many victims of human trafficking qualify for refugee status. Female refugees are at particular risk of being victims of human trafficking. This is due to many factors, including their vulnerable status, the losses they have experienced and their displacement geographically. According to the UNHCR, trafficking risks for female refugees are increasing worldwide. Under the current grounds of persecution of the Convention, protection for female refugees from human trafficking is non-existent, meaning female refugees must depend on the domestic laws of the country they are in. 

In times of conflict and chaos, female refugees are often pressured into work where they are exploited and abused. Prostitution is often one of the only ways female refugees can make money for their families. However, the voluntary nature of such work is questionable when there is no alternative source of income – and indeed exploitation of a position of vulnerability is recognised within the Palermo Protocol as a form of coercion. Individuals are at serious risk of falling into the hands of sex traffickers. This is compounded by the lack of protection for female refugees under the current grounds for persecution, forcing many female refugees into extremely dangerous situations

To conclude, at the time of its establishment, the 1951 Refugee Convention made great strides in human rights, but now, as the world changes, the Convention’s deliberate gender-blindness is an impediment, rather than an asset, to justice for female refugees. As illustrated above, it is possible for countries to interpret the Convention so that ‘particular social group’ extends to protection against specific abuses that only happen to female refugees, but this relies on interpretation. In my view, interpretation is not enough: protection for female refugees should be a codified right, not a privilege at the discretion of the member state’s interpretation. 

The current situation  leaves room for instability and uncertainty, and uncertainty gives rise in turn to grey areas where female refugees are protected in some countries and not in others. To reiterate the words of Charlesworth and Chaiton “The realities of women’s lives do not fit easily into the concepts and categories of international law”. Perhaps it is time that those concepts and categories are re-moulded to allow them to do so. An amended Refugee Convention is overdue, as the unique needs of female refugees must be protected, and the empowerment and the equality of females supported. 

I Know It When I See It

Legal Feminist welcomes feminist blog posts from practising lawyers. In this post, guest blogger and paralegal Ffion Lloyd writes about the shocking growth of the incel movement and suggests the time has come to treat it as a terrorist movement.

We all know the phrase, ‘I know it when I see it’, when you may struggle to describe or pinpoint what ‘it’ exactly is, however, we all feel it and know where ‘its’ boundaries are. Schmid and Jongman described terrorism as acts committed for “idiosyncratic, criminal, or political reasons.” This definition includes mass attacks by non-ideological psychotics. The Crown Prosecution Service describes terrorism as “the use or threat of action… designed to influence any international government organisation or to intimidate the public” which is “for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause” and cites examples as including “serious violence against a person” “endangering a person’s life” and “creating a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public”.

Despite these recognised and accepted definitions, there remain a number of organisations and groups in the UK which blatantly pose a threat to the safety and security of society and yet are not recognised by the authorities as terrorist or as holding terrorist ideologies. 

On Thursday 12th August 2021 Britain witnessed its worst mass shooting in nearly a decade. A country that, since the Dunblane shootings, has successfully avoided the horror of mass shootings. We have prided ourselves on being the complete opposite to the USA when it comes to gun control.  The UK has strict and rigorously enforced gun control laws; anyone caught in possession of an illegal firearm will face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of seven years.

But in spite of our tight gun control, two women, two men and a three-year-old girl were fatally shot in 12 minutes by a 22-year-old, self-identified ‘incel’. In the aftermath of this shocking event, use of the phrase “incel” had the media frantically seeking to explain what this right-wing, misogynistic ideology stands for. However, this is not a new term let alone a new group. A January 2020 report by the Texas Department of Public Safety warned that incels were an “emerging domestic terrorism threat” that “could soon match, or potentially eclipse, the level of lethalness demonstrated by other domestic terrorism types“.

Alongside that report, a 2020 paper, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, published by Bruce Hoffman noted that the incel movement’s “core ethos entails the subjugation and repression of a group and its violence is designed to have far-reaching societal effects” and concluded that “the violent manifestations of the ideology pose a new terrorism threat, which should not be dismissed or ignored by domestic law enforcement agencies“. Yet despite these warnings, Jake Davison, a 22-year-old guy from Plymouth, was frequently and freely able to post YouTube videos, actively discussing his life failures and angrily complaining that the root cause of his insecurities and lack of sexual experience were the fault of women. More specifically, the lack of interest women had in him.

The Incel movement is an inherently misogynistic internet subculture that has reportedly led to over 61 homicide deaths since its founding. The term “involuntary celibate” arose in the 1990s and originally had no violent connotation. However over the last two decades, the incel community became increasingly misogynistic, blaming women and glorifying rape and violence against women.  Then in 2014, Elliot Rodger murdered 6 people, and wounded 14 others, as part of what he called a “Day of Retribution” rooted in the frightening notion that women were fundamentally flawed and deserved death. Rodger went on to write his lengthy 133-page manifesto in which he rationalises the massacre of women. In his “ultimate and perfect ideology of… a fair and pure world,” all women should be “quarantined” in “concentration camps,” where he could “gleefully watch them die,” though some would be kept alive and artificially inseminated to perpetuate humanity. Following this event, pro-violent, internet subcultures have continued to grow and have resulted in several murders and attacks by men propagating this terrifying ideology. 

Despite this, as the law currently stands in the UK incel ideologies are seemingly not regarded a dangerous enough to be classed as terrorism. In the past, extremist groups which have sought to overthrow the social order,  the IRA, the LTTE and most recently ISIS, have been deemed terrorist organisations. Why is the incel movement any different?  

ISIS provides a good case in point – it is recognised as representing a direct threat to the security of a country and its interests; the incel movement undermines democratic norms and values of equality and shares a number of similarities. They are male dominated, historically anti-women and heavily rely on the internet and online forums as a primary communication tool. While anti-women views existed long before the internet, subsections of the internet have accelerated their spread, expanded their reach and fuelled their women hating content.

The nature of attacks, perpetrated by violent radicalized groups such as the incel movement and ISIS, have a very gendered dimension which is predominately virtual and largely comprises young males. How can it be that one an illegal terrorist organisation and the other simply frowned upon, when at their core, they have such fundamental similarities? Does the fact that ISIS is founded in a religious doctrine make it fundamentally more dangerous? It is very hard to see why that should be the case.  If that is the case, what is the difference? Are incels deemed less dangerous because they predominantly target women and not men? Does this somehow make them less of a threat to society? 

If so, this is naive, given incel perpetrators have clearly shown that their attacks also target men, who are deemed attractive and lucky in life (‘chads’). More to the point, the suggestion that hatred of women is somehow less of a threat is also a terrifying conclusion. Violent attacks on women in general have been all too frequent items in the news in recent years, from the shocking assassination of Jo Cox to the brutal murder of Sarah Everard. The murder of Sarah Everard led to an outpouring of concern about violence against women.  And yet despite those sentiments, society has not yet fully recognised the dangers posed by those who fundamentally hate women.  Incel related violence is explicitly aimed at instigating an overthrow of social order. 

Terrorism, I know it when I see it. When will the government? 

AEA v EHRC: An Explanation

There has been a lot of interest in human rights circles about this case and its refusal of permission to judicially review the guidance relating to single sex services. We will look at what the case was about and what the refusal to allow permission might mean. We start by introducing the parties.

The Claimant 

The Claimant was Authentic Equity Alliance (“AEA), a community interest company established in 2018 to promote the personal and professional development of women and girls.

It was asking for permission for the courts to determine whether or not the EHRC’s  (below introduced as the Defendant) guidance relating to single sex services was lawful.

The Defendant

The Defendant to the claim was the Equality and Human Rights Commission, (EHRC) a statutory non-departmental public body established by the Equality Act 2006. On its website it advertises itself in the following terms:

As a statutory non-departmental public body established by the Equality Act 2006, the Commission operates independently. We aim to be an expert and authoritative organisation that is a centre of excellence for evidence, analysis and equality and human rights law. We also aspire to be an essential point of contact for policy makers, public bodies and business.

Its job is to provide guidance and expertise on equality law. To that end it has produced various codes and documents, including the Statutory Code of Practice for Services, Public Functions and Associations (“the Code”), which is the authoritative guide to interpretation of the Equality Act. 

Principal area of concern

AEA’s claim against the EHRC focused on one paragraph of the Code:

[Text: If a service provider provides single or separate sex services for women and men, or provides services differently to women and men, they should treat transsexual people according to the gender role in which they present. However, the Act does permit the service provider to provide a different service or exclude a person from the service who is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or who has undergone gender reassignment. This will only be lawful when the exclusion is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.]

The Question of Lawfulness

The excerpt from the EHRC’s code which is copied out above  relates to  the Equality Act which allows service providers to run women only services (in Schedule 3). The Equality Act starts from a position of non-discrimination – the majority of services are available to everyone regardless of the nine protected characteristics – but accepts that there will be exceptions to this rule. Many of these are uncontroversial. It would be remarkable for someone to suggest that the Brownies are not entitled to discriminate on the basis of age, for example. 

Justified Women Only Services

Women only services are  exceptions to the starting point of non-discrimination and they are allowed under the conditions set out in Schedule 3. 

Broadly (we paraphrase and are not delving into technical details here)

Requirement 1

  • It is lawful, and will not be sex discrimination, to offer single or separate sex services (SSS) when this is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim (Paragraph 26 – 27 )

Requirement 2

  • it is lawful, and will not be gender reassignment discrimination, to offer SSS, if the conduct in question is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. (Paragraph 28)  

The Substance of the Claim

The claim that was brought was, as the judge said at the end, complicated. A simplified – possibly oversimplified – summary is this:

Prescriptive Inclusion: The “Must” Approach

The Claimant, AEA, said that the phrase in the COP “should treat transsexual people according to the gender role in which they present” had wrongly led service providers to think that they must treat people according to the role in which they present. The Claimant provided evidence of various bodies which had adopted this position (as discussed below). 

The Defendant, EHRC, said that 

  • the COP said “should,” not “must,” 
  • that exceptions were available, and 
  • that the bodies which had adopted the “must” position had not expressly said that they had had regard to the COP. On that basis, the EHRC said that those bodies cannot have been led, or misled, by the COP, as none of them mentioned it. 

In fact, the EHRC said, a policy that said a service provider ‘must’ treat people according to the role in which they present would be “directly inconsistent” with the COP. 

In other words – other bodies may well be making this unlawful assertion, but it ain’t us guv.

The EHRC suggested that if other bodies had unlawful policies, these should be challenged directly, rather than holding EHRC itself responsible for bodies which should have followed its guidance, but either did not do so or misunderstood it – although naturally, the EHRC was not willing to concede that anyone had been misled in the absence of a smoking gun in the form of a policy which said “and we got this off the EHRC Codes Of Practice”. This, as we will come to shortly, is important. 

Extent of Justification Required 

The Claimant said that if a service provider meets the first requirement  (paragraphs 26-27 of schedule 3) and identifies that providing a woman only service is a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim,’ it need not meet the second requirement (paragraph 28 of schedule 3) in order to lawfully provide a female-only or male-only service. 

The ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’ having been once identified for the purposes of providing the service at all to the exclusion of persons of the opposite sex, there was no need to re-invent the wheel by identifying it again for the purposes of excluding a person of the opposite sex who also had the protected characteristic of gender reassignment. 

The EHRC said that this was wrong. It said that the AEA’s analysis didn’t account for those who had lived ‘for many years’ in an acquired role and yet had not, for whatever reason, applied for a GRC. It might be reasonable to include such a person notwithstanding that they were legally male, while it might be equally reasonable to exclude someone with a GRC who was legally female.

At this stage the parties’ arguments essentially converged. Both parties were arguing that a GRC was not relevant to the provision of a single sex service. 

Whether Appearance is a factor

The court examined the situation where a person using a woman only service is  “visually indistinguishable” from a woman and what this means in law. 

This phrase’s provenance is from a case which predates the Gender Recognition Act (“GRA”),  A v CC West Yorks. It was about  a transsexual MTF police officer who argued that she had suffered discrimination because she was refused employment, as she would not able to search female prisoners. [For the avoidance of doubt, the court held that Ms A “appeared in every respect to be a woman” – this is not a case in which Ms A asserted a gender identity at odds with appearance which would, nevertheless, today bring her within the scope of the Equality Act.  The case was brought because a prohibition on conducting searches would alert her colleagues to her trans status, which was not known to them. There is absolutely no suggestion that she was seeking inappropriate contact with female prisoners. ]

The House of Lords held that sex could include  “the acquired gender of a post-operative transsexual who is visually and for all practical purposes indistinguishable from non-transsexual members of that gender. No one of that gender searched by such a person could reasonably object to the search.” This was all decided under the provisio that the GRA would consider and address the issue of legal sex.  

Times have changed. The GRA is now in force. We no longer assume that gender reassignment means “a post-operative transsexual” and we now understand intimate searches to be something to which a person consents, not to which they object – albeit lack of consent may be no obstacle where the relevant PACE requirements are satisfied.

However personal appearance is  a factor which both parties acknowledged as relevant when providing a single sex service and applying the exceptions. In a situation satisfactory to nobody, personal appearance is relevant when assessing whether excluding a transwoman from a woman only service is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. 

The decision

The Judge decided that  AEA’s question about the lawfulness of the EHRC’s guidance should not be put in front of the courts. His  job was not to decide what the correct interpretation of the law was at this stage. All he had to do was decide if AEA’s claim was “arguable” – that is, was it arguable that the EHRC’s guidance was so wrong as to be unlawful. 

He decided it was not, for the following reasons:

  1. On the first argument, he agreed that the COP said “should,” not “must.” He pointed out that the guidance extends to just four paragraphs and is intended to be a brief summary not a detailed legal analysis. After “should” comes the disclaimer “However,” followed by an explanation of where exclusion will be reasonable. Although it is not detailed, it is not intended to be an exhaustive guide.
  2. He also agreed that if there are public bodies which have understood a ‘should’ as a ‘must,’ these are capable of challenge by individual service users to individual service providers, whether inclusive or exclusive. We look at this below. 
  3. On the second argument, he agreed with the EHRC that even if a service has met the first requirement by showing it needs to be a single or separate sex service in order to exclude men, nevertheless, it must also meet the second requirement to exclude transwomen where necessary. 
  4. It may well be that a service needs to be female only, but the variation in presentations of transwomen from someone who is ‘visually indistinguishable’ to someone who has only just announced an intention to transition, and the variation in needs of the service users from a rape crisis centre to a changing room with partitioned cubicles, mean that there cannot be the certainty advanced by the Claimant.
  5. In respect of the third argument, the judge agreed that physical appearance is relevant. This is unfortunate. Someone who is genuinely visually indistinguishable will be unlikely to cause challenge or consternation on accessing a SSS, even if they should choose to do so. Focus on a person’s physical appearance is likely to be experienced as demeaning by both the subject and the person required to make the assessment.

THE EHRC’s Stance on Single Sex Services

It would have been significant if the EHRC had been forced  to change its guidance, but the refusal of permission means that the existing situation continues – but with the welcome clarity that the EHRC has acknowledged that there are instances where refusing access to a person of the opposite sex is perfectly reasonable and not phobic. 

The EHRC made two important concessions:

  1. It  distanced itself from prescriptive public guidance that those who self identify as such “must” be treated as women, 
  2. It  made clear that in its view that a women only service is permissible and  the correct approach is more nuanced  with a starting point of inclusion but recognising that exclusion can be  justified (due to being a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’).

What does all this mean?

EHRC agrees that women only space does not have to include anyone who is male at birth, and described prescriptive inclusion policies along the lines of self-ID as “directly inconsistent” with the Code of Practice.

And where should these cases be brought?

The judge strongly agreed with the EHRC that a better challenge would have been brought by an individual service user against an individual service provider, rather than in the abstract at the level of the EHRC and the AEA.

Whilst a reasonable view in law, this is a sad outcome for both trans and feminist service users and for service providers engaging with SSS policies. Women’s services such as crisis centres, refuges and support groups are overstretched and ill positioned to sustain lengthy legal battles.

Some of the Misleading Public Guidance

The policies which AEA had pointed to as containing misleading guidance included 

all of which envisage that a person must, in some cases from the moment they announce an intention to transition, be allowed to use shared private facilities of their preferred sex. In many of these policies there is no hint that the authors were aware that exclusion may be justified where it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. 

EHRC said that there was no evidence that the authors of such policies had been led or misled by EHRC, and that the COP provided adequate guidance explaining that exclusion could be justified.

Here is what EHRC said in its skeleton argument about these documents:

“… insofar as the AEA’s primary objection is to guidance suggesting trans-persons must be allowed to  access the SSS of their acquired gender, that is directly inconsistent with the COP. As set out below, the COP makes clear, in terms, that trans-persons can be excluded from a service where that is justified, and, indeed, the EHRC has taken steps to bring that to  the attention of service-providers whose guidance erroneously suggests trans-persons  must always be permitted to use the SSS of their acquired gender irrespective of the  needs of, or detriment to, others. A striking feature of the present litigation is that, if the  AEA or others affected have identified guidance or practices of other public or private  bodies’ that does, in fact, reflect incorrect statements of law, it is not clear why they are  not being pursued. Instead, a claim has been brought in relation to the EHRC’s COP  which simply does not contain the alleged errors.” [emphasis added]

It might be considered remarkable that quite so many bodies have apparently developed policies without regard to EHRC’s express intervention and also its statutory Code of Practice, but there we have it. Policies and guidance which say a person must be allowed to access the SSS of their acquired gender without reference to possible exceptions is “directly inconsistent” with the COP, and the EHRC will correct service providers whose guidance is “erroneous” in that respect. 

What happens next?

Everyone who provides a single or separate sex service should ensure that they have good legal insurance. It seems likely that as a result of this litigation, women will take action against the individual service providers whose guidance is erroneous, and that more trans people will take action against SSS when they feel that they have been wrongly excluded. As these cases progress up from the county courts to the High Court and Court of Appeal, general principles will be developed through case law as to what a ‘proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’ looks like in practice.

Organisations offering a SSS also need a policy on how, and when, they will apply the exceptions. It will not be enough simply to say “this service is female only.” The policy must set out why the SSS is justified at all and then must say that admission of transwomen is or is not likely to be justified. A blanket ban is likely to be unlawful: the rather far-fetched example was given of a transwoman with her children approaching an otherwise empty women’s refuge in the middle of the night. The policy must envisage the improbable as well as the routine.

Finally, we need more research. Many women avoid mixed space and we hypothesise they will simply self-exclude quietly, leading service providers to become complacent about the need for single sex services. “Our service is unisex,” they say “and we see no women here who have a problem with it, therefore it is unproblematic.” Women who have stopped using a service because it became mixed, or who avoid coffee shops with unisex loos, need to make this known. Service providers need good research to rely on when deciding whether a SSS is justified in order to meet women’s needs. If the service already has an inclusive or conversely an exclusive policy it will not be enough to simply consult with existing service users – it will be necessary to identify potential users too because the policy will have defined the existing service user group. 

SINGLE SEX CYCLING

British Cycling has posted a consultation on their proposed ‘Transgender and Non-Binary Participation Policy’.  We take a look at the parts of the Equality Act 2010 that are relevant to single-sex sporting events and highlight some of the issues we consider relevant to the consultation response.

The policy can be accessed here:

Responses to the consultation are invited by way of a survey available here:

Legal Definitions

The Equality Act 2010 defines a “transsexual” person as someone who “is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex”.  That person will then have the ‘protected characteristic’ of “gender reassignment”.  The term ‘transexual’ is now considered to be outdated and ‘transgender’ is typically used instead, but there is no legal difference in the terminology.  A person does not have to have had any form of surgery or hormonal treatment to acquire the protected characteristic of gender reassignment.

A person may have the protected characteristic of gender reassignment without their legal sex being changed from that which was recorded on their birth certificate at birth.  It is only where a person has a Gender Recognition Certificate (‘GRC’) issued under the Gender Recognition Act 2004 that their legal sex is officially changed.  Fewer than 5,000 of the estimated 600,000 transgender people in the UK have been issued with a GRC.  It is not necessary for a person to have had any form of surgery or hormonal treatment in order to obtain a GRC, but they will have had to evidence to the satisfaction of a specialist panel that they have lived as their acquired gender for at least two years and that they have a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria. 

The Equality Act creates a starting point that discrimination on the grounds of sex is unlawful.  It then goes on to create exceptions to this starting point that make it lawful to discriminate in a variety of specified circumstances.  For our purposes the relevant exceptions are “gender-affected” sports (section 195) and single-sex services, which includes the provision of changing facilities and of recreational sporting activities (schedule 3 paragraphs 27 and 28).

Sport

Similar to section 19 of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, section 195(3) of the Equality Act 2010 defines a “gender-affected activity” as 

“a sport, game or other activity of a competitive nature in circumstances in which the physical strength, stamina or physique of average persons of one sex would put them at a disadvantage compared to average persons of the other sex as competitors in events involving the activity.”

Section 195(1) provides that it is not unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sex in relation to a person’s participation in a “gender-affected activity”.  This means that it is permitted for an event organiser to hold separate competitions for male and female competitors or to run separate classes for either sex within the same sporting event.  

If a sport is deemed to be a “gender-affected activity” it is lawful to limit or refuse a transgender person entry to a particular competition if it is “necessary to do so to secure … (a) fair competition, or (b) the safety of competitors”.

This would mean that it would be lawful for British Cycling to refuse to admit all transwomen entry to a female-only competition if it was considered that the effects of going through a male puberty would create a residual biological advantage in a transwoman competitor (such as height, cardio-vascular capacity, muscle mass), notwithstanding that the competitor had demonstrated suppressed testosterone levels for the required 12 month period.   This would be lawful regardless of whether or not the transwoman holds a GRC.   A failure to take these factors into account could found a claim by female competitors for indirect discrimination.

It would be unlawful to prevent a transwoman from competing in an ‘open’ or men’s category competition.

Services

The exceptions in relation to the provision of services are relevant to non-competitive cycling events and to the provision of changing facilities at an event, whether competitive or not.

Non-Competitive Events

It is lawful to hold single-sex recreational events such as a ‘women only’ cycling event, whether as a one-off or as a regular program.  

Paragraph 27 of Schedule 3 provides that it is lawful to provide a single-sex service where 

a joint service for persons of both sexes would be less effective, and the extent to which the service is required by persons of each sex makes it not reasonably practicable to provide separate services”, provided that it is a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.  

Increasing women’s participation in cycling, and in sport generally, is a legitimate aim.  Given that there are a vast number of events that are open to men and/or people of both sexes, it is proportionate to hold women-only events to create a more female-friendly atmosphere. 

When the single-sex provisions are properly relied upon, it becomes lawful to exclude all male people from that event.  This would include transwomen who do not hold a GRC.

It can be lawful to exclude transwomen who do hold a GRC, but the justification for doing so has to be more finely balanced.   This is set out in paragraph 28 of Schedule 3.  Exclusion from the event would not be on the basis that the person’s legal sex is male, but rather, it would be on the basis that they are transgender.  Factors that are relevant to the proportionality exercise can include, for example, whether the event is aimed at women who share particular religious beliefs that limit socialisation with males outside their family.

A woman who felt unable to take part in a ‘women only’ event that was open to transwomen, because of her religious or other protected belief, or because she has previously been a victim of male violence could potentially bring a claim for indirect discrimination.

Alternatively, if a transwoman is excluded from an event for women only because she is perceived as male (notwithstanding her legal status), that is at least arguably sex discrimination (not gender reassignment discrimination), and permitted by paragraph 27 of schedule 3. 

Changing Facilities

The same provisions in schedule 3 paragraphs 27 and 28 apply to single-sex changing facilities, whether they are provided at a competitive or recreational event.  It is lawful to exclude males as a class from women’s toilets and changing facilities where “the circumstances are such that a person of one sex might reasonably object to the presence of a person of the opposite sex.”

It may also be lawful to exclude a transwoman who holds a GRC from those spaces on grounds of gender reassignment where it is proportionate to do so.  Such considerations may be whether the facilities are communal as opposed to fully-enclosed cubicles.  The legitimate aim of encouraging more women into sport should be given particular weight.  The impact on women who have suffered sex-based violence and trauma from males must be counted.  The needs of all women to privacy, dignity and a sense of safety when changing is reasonable aim that cannot be achieved by compelling them to undress in close proximity to bodies readily perceived as male.

Alternatively, it may be more straightforward simply to characterise that exclusion as discrimination on grounds of perceived sex, which will always be lawful provided the initial conditions for the provision of a single-sex or separate-sex service are met.

Response to Consultation Questions

Q1: Definitions

·      Birth Gender: the gender that a person is assumed to be when they are born. This is usually based on the Sex they are assigned at birth. 

Comment:

This is not a term recognised in law.  It conflates the concept of ‘gender’ with the recording of a person’s sex at birth.  It adds nothing in terms of clarity to the definition of ‘sex’ below.  This definition should be removed. Where relevant the appropriate term would be “sex recorded at birth”.

·      Self-Identified Gender: the gender that the person identifies as, opposed to that which is assigned at birth, their ‘Birth Gender’. 

Comment:

      This is muddled:

–       Sex is recorded at birth, gender is not.

–       As above, ‘Birth Gender’ adds nothing to the definition of ‘sex’.

–       It conflates the situations of people who are transgender by virtue of ‘self-identification’ with those who have legally changed their sex upon the issuance of a GRC.  Their status’ are legally distinct.

Suggest amending to:

Self-Identified Gender: the gender that the person identifies as, opposed to the sex recorded on their birth certificate.

·      Sex: a person’s biological and physical characteristics, defined usually as either ‘male’ or ‘female’ and including indeterminate Sex. 

Comment:

‘Indeterminate sex’ is an inappropriate term. People with chromosomal anomalies that result in Differences of Sexual Development (‘DSD’) are still recognised as being either male or female.

To properly recognise people who have been issued with a Gender Recognition Certificate, suggest amending to:

Sex: a person’s biological and physical characteristics, defined usually as either ‘male’ or ‘female’, or their ‘legal sex’ as recorded in their Gender Recognition Certificate.

·      Transgender: a person whose Gender Identity is different from their physical Sex at birth. Those people who, as defined by the Equality Act 2010, share the protected characteristic of gender reassignment and are described as transsexual people under the legislation. 

Comment:

This definition is broader than the protected characteristic of ‘gender reassignment’ in the Equality Act.  The Act requires that a person is “proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex”.  Merely identifying as being of a different gender from one’s birth sex is not sufficient to bring a person under the definition of this protected characteristic.  Given that this would form the basis for deciding whether an individual is protected from discrimination and the application of single sex exceptions, this requires precision and therefore suggest amending to the legal definition:

Transgender: a person proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex. Those people who, as defined by the Equality Act 2010, share the protected characteristic of gender reassignment and are described as transsexual people under the legislation.

Q2: Membership 

The following amendments are suggested:

·      “gender other than that assigned at birth” amend to “gender other than their sex as recorded at birth”

·      “for sporting purposes” amend to “for the purposes of British Cycling events and activities”

·      “obtain British Cycling Race Membership in their Self-Identified Gender” amend to “obtain British Cycling Race Membership in their Self-Identified Gender or legal sex as recognised by a Gender Recognition Certificate”.  

At present the policy does not expressly consider transgender people who have a GRC and who have already changed their legal sex; it appears as it only requires a person who does not have a GRC to present medical evidence that they meet the conditions set out in paragraph 5.  As there is no medical condition attached to the issuance of a GRC, the policy must make it clear that both self-identified transgender people and those who hold a GRC must satisfy the medical requirements.

·      “their membership shall be in their Self-Identified Gender rather than the Sex assigned at birth” amend to “their membership shall be in their Self-Identified Gender or reassigned Gender pursuant to a Gender Recognition Certificate rather than the Sex recorded at birth” 

Q 3: Recreational Activity 

This section of the policy, in conjunction with the provisions relating to membership in section 2 allows any male person, even if he is not actually transgender, full and unfettered access to women only cycling events and to women’s toilets and changing rooms provided at those events.  All that is required is that he signs a declaration that for “sporting purposes”, he wishes to be treated as if he is female.  He does not have to show that he in any way ‘lives as a woman’ or even that he is actually transgender.

The policy fails to apply the single-sex exceptions as contained in schedule 3 of the Equality Act.  Failure to provide appropriate single-sex facilities would unlawfully discriminate against women who attend, or wish to attend an event.  It is also contrary to British Cycling’s stated aims of increasing the participation of women in the sport. 

Q4: Competition

This policy should be worded with greater clarity.  

In relation to licences to complete in the female category there is no specification of how the reduction of testosterone has to be evidenced.  Is it sufficient to produce a Medical attestation demonstrating that the required hormone levels were met 12 months prior to the date of application?  Must this also be evidenced at a date and shortly prior to application and if so, within what time?  Is evidence in the intervening period required?  How often must testosterone levels be monitored thereafter- is an annual test sufficient?

If a competitor is issued with a female race licence but then fails to evidence that they have kept their testosterone reduced to the correct level in the subsequent 12 months, what happens to any titles, prize money etc that they may win during that period?  

In relation to licences to complete in the male category there is no reference to the Therapeutic Use Exemption certificates that would be required in relation to a transman injecting testosterone.  

Q 4 Other Comment 

Public Sector Equality Duty

British Cycling is likely to be bound by the requirements of section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 – the Public Sector Equality Duty.  This applies to some private organisations if they carry out a “function of a public nature”.  British Cycling is funded in part by public funds, and exercises delegated powers from Sport England.  Its role as a governing body for the sport, including its role in the selection and management of national teams means that it is likely to be deemed meet this criteria.

It therefore has a duty: 

“in the exercise of its functions, have due regard to the need to—

(a) eliminate discrimination, harassment, victimisation and any other conduct that is prohibited by or under this Act;

(b) advance equality of opportunity between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it;

(c) foster good relations between persons who share a relevant protected characteristic and persons who do not share it.”

It is obliged to consciously direct its mind to these obligations and to evidence that it has analysed its policies to ensure compliance with the Equality Act.  This would involve taking proper consideration of the rights and views of people of all protected characteristics.  British Cycling should carry out an equality impact assessment, informed by a proper consultation with its members to assess the impact of this policy on people of all protected characteristics and particularly on women, including women of minority ethnicities and religions. 

Emma Stuart King

Defining Domestic Violence: An Urgent Note of Concern regarding the Domestic Violence Bill

SUMMARY

1.          There are deficiencies in the drafting of the Bill that; a) could prove counter-productive and allow the use of protection notices to be weaponised against the real victims of domestic violence; and b) create a risk that vulnerable people who lack capacity or who have a mental impairment may be unfairly criminalised.  

2.          The definition of “domestic abuse” is insufficiently defined and likely to result in inconsistent and ineffective policing.

3.          There are a lack of procedural safeguards to address the following:

i.               To ensure that the complainant is at a genuine risk of suffering emotional or physical harm;

ii.              To prevent abusers from making false or exaggerated reports in order to obtain a powerful mechanism by which to control their victim;

iii.            To prevent abusers from claiming they are being subject to psychological or emotional abuse in respect of behaviour on the part of their victim which is engendered only by the abusive behaviour (the ‘nagging wife’ complaint);

iv.            To prevent the criminalisation of vulnerable adults who for reason of a disability (such as a learning disability or mental health condition) may be unable to comprehend that their behaviour is abusive or to moderate their conduct.

4.          It is proposed that significant changes be made to the Bill to address these problems.  In addition:

i.               s 30(5) additionally should prevent the making of a protection order against a person who for reason of their disability is unable to understand the consequences of,  or to moderate their behaviour. 

ii.              s 34(1)(a) to comply with the Equality Act 2010 and the Human Rights Act 1998 additionally should prevent the imposition of restrictions that conflict with a person’s “other protected belief”.

SUMMARY OF THE PROCEDURE

5.          Legal Feminist is concerned by the process for the making of a domestic abuse protection notice and a domestic abuse protection order under Part 3 of the Bill.  This provides for a procedure as follows:

i.               A domestic abuse protection notice may be issued where a senior police officer has ‘reasonable grounds for believing’ that abuse has occurred and that it is necessary to issue a notice to protect the victim from domestic abuse (s 20(3)&(4));

ii.              Where a notice has been issued, the police must within 48 hours make an application to the magistrates for a domestic abuse protection order (s 26(3));

iii.            The magistrates will make such an order when satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the abuse complained of did occur and that it is necessary and proportionate to make the order to prevent domestic abuse or the risk of domestic abuse from occurring (s 30(1)&(2));

iv.            Before making a notice or order the wishes of the victim and views of the alleged perpetrator must be considered but are not determinative of the decision (s 22(1) & s 31(1));

v.             It is not necessary for the victim of the abuse to consent to the making of the notice or order (s 22(4) & s 31(3)). 

vi.            As to the content of an order, s 33(1) provides that:

“A court may by a domestic abuse protection order impose any requirements that the court considers necessary to protect the person for whose protection the order is made from domestic abuse or the risk of domestic abuse.”

vii.          A person commits an offence if without reasonable excuse they fail to “comply with any requirement imposed by the order” (s 37(1)).  The offence is both summary and indictable, with a penalty of a fine and/or maximum of 12 months imprisonment for the former and 5 years for the latter (s 37(5)).

6.          The definition of “domestic abuse” is set out in s 1.  This section contains the totality of the definition.

1 Definition of “domestic abuse” 

(1) This section defines “domestic abuse” for the purposes of this Act. 

(2) Behaviour of a person (“A”) towards another person (“B”) is “domestic abuse” 5 if— 

(a) A and B are each aged 16 or over and are personally connected to each other, and 

(b) the behaviour is abusive.


(3) Behaviour is “abusive” if it consists of any of the following— 

(a) physical or sexual abuse;

(b) violent or threatening behaviour

(c) controlling or coercive behaviour; 

(d) economic abuse (see subsection (4)); 

(e) psychological,
 emotional or other abuse;


and it does not matter whether the behaviour consists of a single incident or a
course of conduct. 

PROBLEMS 

7.          We consider this section to be problematic, for the following reasons:

i.               Defining “abusive” behaviour as “other abuse” is circular in its reasoning;  

ii.              There is no necessity for proving that the ‘victim’ of the behaviour finds it abusive;

iii.            There is no requirement that the ‘perpetrator’ understands (or should reasonably understand) that the behaviour is abusive;

iv.            There is no requirement to show that any further instance of domestic abuse has occurred following the making of an order, as the offence lies only in breaching the conditions of the order; such conditions may be ‘any’. 

8.          Legal Feminist highlights two potential scenarios in which the lack of requirement to prove either the perception of the ‘victim’ or of the ‘perpetrator’ could result in unintended and unjust consequences:

i. Use by perpetrators of domestic abuse to further persecute their victims.  

9.          Members of Legal Feminist are familiar with the current use and misuse of Domestic Abuse protections and how domestic abusers manipulate the system so that victims often end up re-victimised by the very system which was designed to help them. [2]

10.       Not all victims of domestic abuse are silent victims.  Many women[1] do shout back, argue, complain etc or even at times attempt to defend themselves physically.  Such attempts at resistance do not reflect the power imbalance or mean that they are not ‘properly’ victims of abuse at the hands of their violent male partner.  

11.       It would become possible in this scenario for the abuser to report to the police that he has been struck on one occasion by his female partner and to persuade the police to issue a protection notice.  Whilst the police are obliged to take into account any representations made by the alleged perpetrator (in this case the woman), they are not obliged to seek out any representation or to properly investigate or challenge the account given by the alleged victim (in this case the man).  On production to court, the magistrates can proceed to issue a protection order even if the man does not attend (it is not possible to for a summons to be issued for his attendance s 26(8)(b)).  They can find on the balance of probabilities that abuse has occurred without any investigation as to whether the man truly suffered any emotional or physical harm, and without there being any investigation as to the background of the relationship that may have caused the woman to react as she did.  The making of a protection order would then be a powerful tool that the abusive man could use to control the actions of the woman.  

12.       This risk of misuse becomes increasingly difficult to guard against when the ‘abuse’ complained of is “psychological, emotional or other abuse”.  Complaints of controlling behaviour may in fact be explained by the fact that the man is frequently absenting himself without explanation because he is being sexually unfaithful, or is spending scarce family money on gambling, alcohol etc.  Women writing for organisations such as transwidowsvoices.org have recorded that when transitioning to a female identity their male partners have accused them of emotional abuse when they have referred to them by their male name or allowed their children to call him ‘dad’.  

13.       Where a woman is a victim of domestic violence, she may not be ready to reveal that this is the case, fearing for her own or her children’s safety, or due to financial or accommodation worries.  She may prefer to take the consequences of accepting the protection order rather than incur the wrath of her male partner by revealing to the police or magistrates the truth of their relationship.  The proposed procedure risks pushing her into a situation for which she is not ready and which may in fact be harmful to her interests.  

14.       Procedural safeguards need to be built in to ensure that the alleged victim is truly at risk of suffering emotional or physical harm and to prevent the process from being abused.

Criminalisation of Vulnerable Adults

15.       The combined factors of the lack of requirement of intent to abuse and the negation of a requirement for consent by the victim leads to the potential for the criminalisation of vulnerable adults with behavioural or learning disabilities.  

16.       For many adults with such disabilities, home is a safe place where they can vent their feelings of anxiety and frustration that they have to work hard to conceal from the outside world.  This often is expressed by verbal outbursts and other behaviour that may in other be considered to be abusive.  Whilst there is certainly more scope for providing support to the family members who live with such vulnerable adults, it is unlikely to be in the interests of either party to criminalise the vulnerable adult and may cause considerable upset to the family members.  

17.       We recommend that at s 30(5) the wording is amended to state “or who for reason of disability is a) unable to comprehend that their behaviour is abusive, or b) is significantly impaired in their ability to moderate their behaviour to refrain from the abusive conduct.

Legal Feminist

15 March 2021


[1] We recognise that people of either sex can be a perpetrator or victim of abuse, but for simplicity give examples here of typical patterns of male abusive behaviour against a female partner.

[2] One of the barrister members of the Legal Feminist collective has been involved in four separate public law cases involving the existing Domestic Violence Prevention Notice (“DVPN”) regime. She stresses that these cases may not be typical or representative of the use of DVPNs; as in general few DVPNs end up as public law cases.

In each of these four cases, a DVPN was served upon a woman. In each case, the woman had previously been the complainant in a domestic violence case in the criminal courts, or the beneficiary of a non-molestation / occupation order in family law, or both.

In two of the cases, the service of the DVPN meant that both the woman and her child(ren) had to leave their home immediately to go to a hotel or hotel. In the other two cases, the woman left alone (one had no children, in the other case, the teenage children remained at home). It is noteworthy that the police had not completed the paperwork properly in two of the cases. In one case, no reason was given for the issue of the DVPN at all

Legal Feminist holds serious concerns that in at least some cases, the police have issued a DVPN against a woman who has already been a victim of domestic abuse, affecting children as well as women.

.

Sex Based Rights: A Remedy To Sex Based Wrongs

What are “sex based rights”? What do women mean by the phrase – and do we even have them? 

A pithy answer is that they are the remedy to sex based wrongs, perhaps – depressingly – a far more readily identifiable set. 

What is usually meant by “sex based rights” are the exceptions set out in the Equality Act allowing services and public functions to offer a single or separate sex service, and to offer this on the basis of biological sex, as well as allowing employers to recruit for only a member of one sex where there is a genuine occupational requirement, women only membership associations, and women only sports.

They are exceptions because they do not arise in the course of the mundane, or in the course of most recruitment. The word “exception” here simply means that you cannot separate by sex “except” where you can – it does not denote that you must have an “exceptionally impressive” reason for doing so. 

Blackadder misinterprets the Equality Act when Baldrick relies on the single sex exceptions

So if you run a greengrocers you cannot insist that you only provide your service to men, and if you run a pub you cannot have a ladies’ room separate to the men, as used to be common. If you are recruiting an admin assistant it would be unwise to ask for women only. If you are the proprietor of a golf club you must not only allow men into the bar. 

So the ordinary rule for services is that everything is mixed sex, except where 

  •  “only persons of that sex have need of the service,” s.27(2) Schedule 3 Equality Act – for example, a lesbian support group;
  • “The service is also provided jointly” and “would be insufficiently effective were it only to be provided jointly,” s.27(3) Equality Act – for example, a mental health group which offers both a mixed group and a men’s group catering to men’s specific needs;
  • “A joint service would be less effective” and “the extent to which it is required by persons of each sex makes it not reasonably practicable to provide separate services,” s.27(4) Equality Act – for example, a feminist society in which consciousness raising sessions are held;
  • The provision is at a hospital or similar establishment providing special care, supervision or attention, s.27(5) Equality Act;
  • The service is likely to be used by two or more persons at the same time and a person of one sex might reasonably object to the presence of a person of the opposite sex, s.27(6) Equality Act – for example a changing room;
  • There is likely to be physical contact between service users and a person might object if that were from a member of the opposite sex – for example a single sex martial arts class, s.27(7) Equality Act.

S.28 to Schedule 3 goes on to clarify that providing a single sex or separate sex service can extend to excluding a person on the basis of gender reassignment – if the conduct in question is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. 

It should perhaps be noted here that not all exceptions in the Equality Act are sex based. There are a number of age based exceptions for example – and as far as services go, s.30 Schedule 3 provides a general dispensing power allowing service providers to provide a service to those who share a particular protected characteristic if the provider “reasonably thinks it impracticable” to provide the service to others.

In addition to the exceptions for service providers, employers may, if justified, require an employee to have a particular characteristic, s.1 Schedule 9 Equality Act. In the context of sex based rights, that might mean recruiting a female carer to provide intimate personal assistance to a woman, or a female counsellor for a rape crisis or domestic abuse centre. 

Membership organisations may restrict membership to persons who share a protected characteristic (s.1, Schedule 15 Equality Act). 

(There are also single sex provisions for sports, which this post, already too long, doesn’t touch on further.)

Are these truly “sex based rights”? As armchair pedants will be swift to point out, these are exceptions to the rule of indiscriminate provision rather than rights. The Equality Act does not seek to confer rights; it ensures protections. But what it does recognise is that equality in its purest form – whereby no service provider was allowed to distinguish between child and adult, man and woman, belonging or not to a particular faith – would lead to injustice. In particular, it reflects that equality does not always mean treating everyone the same. Sometimes it also requires removal of barriers, or making provision to address particular disadvantages.  What makes the exceptions actionable rights are the provisions of s.19 which prohibits indirect discrimination and the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) contained in s.149. A body which declined to consider using the exceptions would be vulnerable to a claim in the County Court for indirect discrimination or to judicial review in the case of a public sector organisation which failed to properly apply the PSED.

And where state bodies are concerned, it also works alongside the Human Rights Act, which does confer (or confirm) rights – controversial at the time of the introduction of the HRA, because of the spectre of a precedent of a benevolent government ‘granting’ rights to citizens which could then be snatched away by a despotic successor. The HRA includes freedom from degrading treatment, the right to privacy and dignity, and freedom of association, all of which are relevant to the provision and retention of single sex services. 

So why are they controversial, in a way that corresponding exceptions for other protected characteristics such as age or disability are not? 

The answer seems to lie not in our attitude to sex based rights, but in our attitude to sex based wrongs. It is by no means novel to suggest that such wrongs are historic and now cured by our supposedly perfect and equal society: the surge in ‘men’s rights activism’ of the 90s and 00s was predicated on the idea that women had already gained all the rights we could legitimately expect, that the playing field was entirely level, and any further progress was “demanding special treatment.” 

The nineties were a particular hotspot for such arguments, as the marital rape case (R v R [1991] UKHL 12) was argued and ultimately won. On 23 November 1991, Neil Lyndon produced an article entitled “On how civilised society is being corrupted by feminists and their mad doctrines” in the Spectator, complaining that the “Spare Rib hoods” had infiltrated the law: “The Law Lords tipped their wigs in the direction of the hoods when they reinterpreted the law on rape to include acts between a married couple… they acceded to and gave established respectability to the idea that normal men are rapists.”

The following year, on 17 October 1992, Barbara Amid expressed horror that the government is now “dancing to the tune of radical feminists.”… “In the past 20 years, our society has gone a good way towards becoming a matriarchy… And just as I, being a supporter of liberal democracy, would fight a patriarchy, the fight now must be against matriarchy.” 

Indeed, men’s rights activists such as Diana Thomas (writing in 1993 as David) insisted that it was really men who suffered sex based oppression – including by being ‘provoked by neurotic women into committing date rape’.  

None of this, of course, was exclusive to the 90s. As far back as 1953, the Lady column in the Spectator magazine was complacent: “The time has at last come when the self-respecting intelligent woman need no longer call herself a feminist… The battle is over. The women have won.”

What is new, though, is that such strictures are no longer the preserve of the conservative. Helen Pluckrose wrote in October 2020 in this thread that “I don’t believe sexism against women is a mainstream thing.”

This is not a criticism of Helen, whom I have always found to be a lucid and interesting thinker, whether or not I agree with her. The point is that many, many people did agree with her that while virtually all other forms of prejudice continue to exist and should be countered, sexism against women does not – or at least not in the ‘mainstream.’ 

For those who take this position, increasingly not just conservatives but also those who would regard themselves as social justice connoisseurs, there is no point to sex based rights because there are, by that definition, no sex based wrongs.

If male violence is not targeted at women by sex, but the random violence of a few ‘bad apples’ misbehaving, then women do not need special measures to ensure their protection from it. If there is no sexism, then there is little basis upon which to rest a belief that a joint service would be less effective than a single sex one, and no basis upon which a member of one sex might ‘reasonably object’ to the presence of a member of the opposite sex. If there is no sexism, no barrier to female participation, then women only shortlists are a narcissistic indulgence, women only associations unnecessary and suspect, women only occupational requirements nothing more than special treatment for whingers. 

For those who do see sexism, sex based rights – the recognition within the Equality Act that single sex spaces and provision are sometimes necessary – are crucial. 

While male violence continues to be targeted at women by sex, some survivors will need places where they can breathe, speak and recover freely, without the hypervigilance arising from hearing a male voice or seeing a male person – however delightful that person may be. Post traumatic stress reactions do not pause to reflect on “not all men.” 

While sexism persists, women will need privacy and dignity when changing, when in need of personal care, or in any of the myriad situations envisaged by the Equality Act’s exceptions when a single sex service can be justified. 

While women are subject to FGM, sexual violence, forced marriage, honour killing, corrective rape, military rape, forced pregnancy, forced abortion, selective abortion, sexual harassment, prostitution, pornography, objectification, sex trafficking, maternity discrimination, unequal pay, disproportionate caring responsibilities, domestic violence, financial exploitation and control, political underrepresentation, inadequate healthcare, limited control of their own bodies and reproductive choices, systemic barriers to occupational progress and promotion, silencing, belittling or any of the other ways in which sexism, misogyny and patriarchy are enforced, “sex based rights,” however inadequate a shorthand that may be, are a hallmark of a civilised society. Until sexism is eradicated, sex based rights are indispensable.