Sex, Gender and the Trans Debate

By Prof Joanne Conaghan (University of Bristol Law School)

The recent debate on gender recognition reform, as played out in the press and on social media, has been painful to behold. With passions running high, much of the discourse has been marked by a lack of regard for the viewpoints of others, on occasion spiralling into professional and even personal abuse online. That the pursuit of equality should unleash such unkind sensibilities is troubling, particularly in a feminist context in which values such as inclusion, empathy, and respect for different standpoints have generally commanded wide respect.

What lies behind the apparent deadlock in debate between transgender activists and ‘gender critical’ feminists? On the one hand, there is the perfectly proper concern of trans people to have access to a legal process of gender recognition which they do not experience as invasive, cumbersome, and pathologizing. On the other, there are misgivings expressed by some in the feminist community that a legal regime of gender recognition, understood as ‘self-declaration’ and operating in various forms in Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Denmark, Ireland, Malta and Norway, will weaken the hard-won gains of decades of feminist activism particularly with regard to securing women’s access to safe sex-segregated spaces such as rape crisis centres and women’s refuges. The fact that existing equality legislation already provides a level of protection allowing same-sex service providers to deny access to transgender individuals where they can show this is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim (for example, a counselling service might reasonably be concerned that sexually abused women will be less likely to attend group counselling if  ‘male-bodied’ trans women are also in attendance)[1] does not seem to have allayed these concerns, though surely they should, particularly as the Government has made clear that they have no plans to change equality law. (more…)

Oration for Lady Hale on the occasion of her receipt of an Honorary Fellowship at the University of Bristol in July 2017

Written and orated by Prof Joanne Conaghan, Professor of Law and Head of School (University of Bristol Law School).

In July 2017, the University of Bristol awarded an Honorary Fellowhip to its former Chancellor the Rt. Hon. the Baroness Hale of Richmond, DBE. Professor Joanne Conaghan, Head of the University of Bristol Law School, had the honour of writing the Oration for Lady Hale.

In her Oration, Professor Conaghan stresses the many strengths and achievements of Lady Hale in a career dedicated to the law as it applies to those most vulnerable, such as in the areas of mental health and family law, and to combat inequality, in particular on the basis of gender. Lady Hale’s achievements are indeed particularly remarkable due to the unequal society she lived in through her early years; a society which she is shaping and pushing for transformation, very soon from the seat of the President of the Supreme Court, to which she has been appointed.

The full text of the oration is now reproduced here as a token of the values that the University of Bristol Law School, as a community, strives to foster. (more…)

Rape Investigations and police accountability: the case of the Black Cab Rapist

By Prof Joanne Conaghan, Professor of Law (University of Bristol Law School).

The case of the Black Cab rapist, John Worboys, may well qualify as one of the most egregious failures of modern policing of our times. Alleged to have assaulted over 100 women using his taxi as a lure and a crime site, Worboys terrorised women in the London Metropolitan area for the best part of a decade before eventually being apprehended and imprisoned in 2009 for 19 separate sexual assaults.  This week the Worboys case is once again in the public eye as a claim by two of his victims, DSD and NBV, that the Metropolitan Police violated their human rights by failing adequately to investigate their claims comes before the Supreme Court.

One has to wonder how such serious criminal activity in a public setting could go unchecked for so long. The simple answer is that the Metropolitan Police failed Worboys’ victims utterly and unequivocally, their investigation marred by multiple systemic and operational failings, as elaborated in painstaking detail by Mr Justice Green in a High Court judgment in 2014.  (more…)