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by Ruaraidh Gilmour
31 May 2022
Create prisons exemption in Gender Recognition Act says women's right campaigner

Create prisons exemption in Gender Recognition Act says women's right campaigner

A women’s rights campaigner has called for the Gender Recognition Act to be reformed to exempt prisons from having to recognise the trans status of prisoners.

Lucy Hunter Blackburn of policy analysis firm MurrayBlackburnMackenzie told MSPs that prisons were currently open to the risk of a legal challenge if a trans person with a gender recognition certificate (GRC) was not being treated the same as a non-trans prisoner.

She said proposed legislation currently before parliament to implement self-declaration would exacerbate the problem.

Speaking to Holyrood’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee, Hunter Blackburn warned the Gender Recognition Reform Bill would likely result in an increase in prisoners applying for a GRC and expressed concern that the proposals would impact the safety of female prisons.

She said: “Once you can self-declare, it looks like it would be very easy for a prisoner to get a GRC.”

Under the Gender Recognition Act 2004, people with a GRC must be treated by law to be of their “acquired gender” in most situations.

Current Scottish Prison Service policy means prisoners who seek to change their legal sex while already in custody are able to do so, with re-locations decided on a case-by-case basis.

Dr Kate Coleman, of Keep Prisons Single Sex, said being granted a GRC markedly increased the chances of request transfer being successful.

She expressed concern that trans female prisoners were then risk assessed the same as non-trans prisoners. She said: “Those with a GRC are treated very differently to those without a GRC in terms of safeguarding, risk assessment and allocation. Those decisions leave women in prison at risk.”

The Scottish Parliament committee also took evidence from women’s organisations in favour of the bill.

Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, argued that taking away perceived barriers to obtain a GRC will not affect disclosure of sexual offending.

Responding to concerns that a system of self-declaration would be abused, she said: “We’ve been trans inclusive on the basis of self-ID for 15 years and we’ve had no experience of reports of anyone abusing that system… It’s absolutely right to be really cautious of any legal reform and unintended consequences, but certainly from the evidence I’ve seen, there is no evidence of people using systems of self-ID to abuse, for example, women within rape crisis services.”

Naomi McAuliffe, of Amnesty International Scotland, added that evidence from other countries who had introduced self-ID suggested any concerns about abuse “hasn’t come to pass.”

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