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Legal action launched by transsexual prisoner

A prisoner has today launched a legal action against the Prison Service in respect of a prison’s refusal to recognise her as transsexual.

16 December 2014

The prisoner, known as “Ms K”, is a male-to-female transsexual.  Since her childhood, she has felt as if she was “a woman trapped in a man’s body”.  However, she felt unable to disclose these feelings to others through her fear of rejection and of abuse should she do so.  Nonetheless, after years of wrestling with these feelings, she, last year, made the life-changing decision to disclose her transsexualism.   

At this time, Ms K was serving as a prisoner.  She told the prison that, as a transsexual person, she wished to under the gender reassignment process to change her body physically from that of a man to that of a woman.  She also told them that, in the meantime, she wished to live as and be treated as a woman.  This included being referred to by her female name and wearing female clothes and make up.

However, the prison refused to recognise Ms K as transsexual and threatened disciplinary action against her should she try to identify herself as a woman in any way.  The prison’s stated reason for doing this was that her risk of re-offending was too high and that to permit her to live and be treated as a woman would increase that risk.  

This reason has been maintained despite her changing her name by deed poll, and despite the prison doctors diagnosing her with gender identity disorder and referring her to a gender identity clinic.

Ms K approached the prison law team at Leigh Day, who have launched a judicial review claim against the Prison Service challenging the prison’s refusal.  

The basis of the challenge is that the refusal is unlawful as it breaches their own policies, and amounts to a breach of her human rights and to unlawful discrimination. 

Benjamin Burrows, a solicitor in the prison law team at Leigh Day, said:

“Ms K has made a difficult, yet clearly reasoned, choice in wishing to live in her acquired gender.  This choice has been recognised by the doctors at the prison, but the prison itself is refusing to do so.  The reasons given for this are spurious at best.  However, the law offers protection to people who make this choice.  That protection should be given to everyone, regardless of whether they are a prisoner or not.  The fact that Ms K is being denied this protection is unlawful, and is causing her a great deal of distress.”

Ms K is also being represented by Jude Bunting, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, who is a recognised expert in prison, human rights and discrimination law. 

Please contact Benjamin Burrows for further details.

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