Common Sense Champions: Dame Victoria Sharp, Lord Justice Lewis, and Mrs Justice Lieven
This week we have not one, or even two, but THREE Common Sense Champions. They are the three judges who ruled on the case against the Tavistock & Portman NHS Trust and its prescribing of puberty blockers to children – Dame Victoria Sharp, Lord Justice Lewis, and Mrs Justice Lieven.
First, a bit of background to the case. One of the claimants was Keira Bell, a woman who was gender non-conforming as a young child, and who struggled with gender dysphoria in her teens. She was referred to and then treated by the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) at the Tavistock Centre.
As part of her treatment, and to help with her gender transition, she was prescribed experimental puberty blocking drugs and testosterone. Further down the line she had a double mastectomy – but afterwards decided she had made a mistake and should never had transitioned. She has spoken eloquently about things in an interview here and on Newsnight as well.
It’s really important to be clear that the court case brought against the Tavistock Centre wasn’t about the rights and wrongs of gender identity or transitioning. It was about whether or not people under 18 can realistically give the informed consent required for them to be prescribed puberty blockers, especially given the long-term and unknown effects they have on their bodies.
Against the background of the heated and often dysfunctional debate around transgender rights, the judgement made on the case is an incredible application of common sense and compassion – exactly what one would hope for from the High Court.
The judgement lays out the background and facts, summarises the large quantity of evidence submitted by everyone, and then painstakingly works through it all before laying down findings and decisions.
The language is measured and calm, but the conclusions could not be clearer:
151 “…It is highly unlikely that a child aged 13 or under would be competent to give consent to the administration of puberty blockers. It is doubtful that a child aged 14 or 15 could understand and weigh the long-term risks and consequences of the administration of puberty blockers.
152 “In respect of young persons aged 16 and over, the legal position is that there is a presumption that they have the ability to consent to medical treatment. Given the longterm consequences of the clinical interventions at issue in this case, and given that the treatment is as yet innovative and experimental, we recognise that clinicians may well regard these as cases where the authorisation of the court should be sought prior to commencing the clinical treatment. “
The impact of these conclusions was immediate: the same day that the judgement was released, the Tavistock & Portman NHS Trust said: “We will not be making new referrals to endocrinology until we have more clarity.”
Outside the High Court, Keira Bell said: “This judgment is not political, it’s about protecting vulnerable children. I’m delighted to see that common sense has prevailed.”
Here at the Campaign for Common Sense we think that the judges concerned deserve high praise indeed. They took a very difficult, emotive issue, and handled it with care. They separated the signal from the noise – the key issue from others surrounding it. They came up with a ruling that protected young people from irreversible and potentially dangerous decisions, and in a way that the vast majority of people can get behind. And it’s already having an impact on people’s lives.
For these reasons, we believe that Dame Victoria Sharp, Lord Justice Lewis, and Mrs Justice Lieven are worthy Common Sense Champions!