JK Rowling takes swipe at Nicola Sturgeon as she is grilled during TV interview on trans offenders
Author JK Rowling has taken an open swipe at Nicola Sturgeon after the Scottish First Minister stumbled her way through an awkward TV interview on trans offenders being put in women’s prisons.
The SNP leader struggled as she tried to explain her policy during an ITV interview – admitting that trans women will be treated differently to born women.
The toe-curling exchange came as the Scottish Tories called on Ms Sturgeon to make a statement to Holyrood clarifying the ‘utterly perverse’ situation.
The issue was thrown into the spotlight last week when transgender double rapist Isla Bryson, 31, was remanded to a segregation unit at Cornton Vale prison near Stirling – a women-only facility.
Amid an outcry, the Scottish Prison Service (SPS) then decided to move Bryson to another prison.
Nicola Sturgeon struggled as she tried to explain her policy on trans prisoners during an ITV interview – admitting that trans women will be treated differently to born women
The issue was thrown into the spotlight last week when transgender double rapist Isla Bryson, 31, was remanded to a segregation unit at Cornton Vale prison near Stirling – a women-only facility
The First Minister’s concerns were apparently communicated to officials – although she insisted there was no formal direction given.
Ms Sturgeon had already been under heavy fire over a new gender identity law passed by Holyrood and blocked by Westminster, which would have reduced the age limit for changing gender and removed the meed for a medical diagnosis.
During the interview, Ms Sturgeon was asked if she believed ‘all trans women are women’.
‘Well, that’s not the point that we’re dealing with here,’ she blustered.
Pressed on the question, she said: ‘Trans women are women but in the present context there is no automatic right for a trans woman…’
Challenged on whether that meant there were ‘contexts when a trans woman is not a woman’, Ms Sturgeon replied: ‘No, there is… there is circumstances in which a trans woman will be housed in the male prison estate…’
The ITV reporter then probed whether there was ‘any context in which a woman born as a woman will be housed in a male estate?’
‘Look… we’re talking here about trans women,’ Ms Sturgeon said.
Pushed again to answer the question, the SNP chief said: ‘I don’t think there are circumstances there, but…’
Asked whether that meant the rules are ‘different for trans women’, Ms Sturgeon grudgingly said: ‘Well, yes.’
Ms Sturgeon was pressed further that her response implied trans women were ‘not equal’ to born women.
‘That is not… there is a risk assessment process done for trans women that takes account of the nature of the crime,’ she said.
‘Clearly significant concern arises out of sexual crime, and whether it’s appropriate for them to be in a female prison or male prison.’
In separate interviews, Ms Sturgeon said: ‘The arrangements for dealing with transgender prisoners hasn’t changed, they’ve been in place for some time.
‘There has never been an automatic right for a trans woman to serve their sentence in a female prison.
‘These decisions are subject to rigorous and robust risk assessment.
She added: ‘The cases that have been in the media in recent days, those risk assessments were under way.
‘There is no reason to assume that the outcome in both of those cases would not have been that they should be in a man’s prison.
‘But given the focus and given the concerns that have been posed as a result of the focus on these cases, what we have done is bring absolute clarity to that.’
Ms Sturgeon said ‘pending a wider review’, the change would ‘make it absolutely clear that no transgender prisoner with a history of violence against women will be placed in the female estate’.
She also stressed the importance of not ‘stigmatising’ the wider transgender community in a debate about the safeguarding of women in prisons.
‘We must never lose sight of the fact that trans people, just like the population as a whole, the vast majority never commit any crimes,’ she said.
Over the weekend, reports emerged that Tiffany Scott – who had been convicted of stalking a 13-year-old girl before her transition – would be sent to a female unit. That was denied by SNP Justice Secretary Keith Brown.
Yesterday Mr Brown announced a pause to transgender prisoners with convictions for violence against women being moved to the female estate, along with an urgent review of the handling of the Bryson case.
Scottish Tory community safety spokesman Russell Findlay called on Ms Sturgeon to make a statement to MSPs this week, adding that his party would seek to amend justice reform legislation being brought to parliament by the government to make the pause permanent.
‘After days of SNP chaos, confusion and U-turns, Nicola Sturgeon must come to parliament as a matter of urgency,’ he said.
SNP leader Ms Sturgeon was visiting BBC Studioworks in Glasgow today
‘She needs to explain her government’s shambolic mess and make clear how the safety of female prisoners can be guaranteed.
‘We need full transparency because the only thing clear at the moment is that the Justice Secretary is in complete disarray.
‘Keith Brown was only shamed into this dramatic U-turn after a sustained public outcry over two highly dangerous criminals.
‘But a ‘pause’ on criminals with a history of violence against women being housed in female prisons does not go far enough.
‘We need a permanent ban to safeguard vulnerable female inmates.
‘The last few days have exposed Nicola Sturgeon as being completely out of touch with public opinion. Putting the rights of highly dangerous criminals ahead of those of vulnerable women is utterly perverse.’
The Tory MSP also urged the government to speak to Dr Alice Edwards – the UN special rapporteur on torture – who voiced her concerns about the Scott case on Twitter.
However, speaking to journalists during a visit today Ms Sturgeon indicated she is not likely to make a statement to Holyrood.
‘I was in parliament on Thursday, answering questions on this very subject during First Minister’s Questions,’ Ms Sturgeon said.
She went on to say there will be ‘the normal scrutiny and opportunity for questions of me and other ministers in the course of the parliamentary week’.