21 November 2022

Thought-policing: the ‘trans guide’ for MoJ staff is nonsense on stilts


Dominic Raab might have been hoping for some weekend respite after the recent bullying allegations against him. But while the Justice Secretary sought to get on the front foot with measures to tackle extremism in prisons, trans activists in his own department were doing their level best to cut him off at the knees.

The story centres on an internal guide sent out to all MoJ staff on official email channels from an officially recognised activist network, ‘Pride in Prisons and Probation’ or PiPP, which was leaked to The Telegraph. This handy document, published for ‘Trans awareness week’, seeks to thought-police prison and probation staff who indulge in ‘gender critical’ behaviour – which in this context means the unspeakable heresy of saying biological sex is immutable and binary.

This is a bit of a shock to those of us who believed that this censorious nonsense had been put to bed by the Forstater vs CGD Europe employment tribunal appeal – which confirmed that so-called ‘gender critical’ beliefs were protected under the Equality Act 2020.  And if the idea that stating people cannot imagine themselves into a different sex needs explicit legal protection seems deranged to you, you’re going to need a lie down for the next bit.

For the MoJ’s trans guide – published as ‘official sensitive’, probably in a vain attempt to make it sound official and deter leaking – says in clear terms that phrases like ‘protecting women and girls’ is a ‘coded’ ‘dog whistle’ designed to equate trans women with predators. This will be news to Rishi Sunak, who recently made protecting women from male predation a central feature of his premiership.

While there is no record of any transgender person being killed for their identity here in the UK over the last three years, last year in this country 177 women were victims of homicide, most of them by violent men. Yet the material sent out from HMPPS promotes a ‘trans remembrance day’. The taxpayers who underwrite all this guff might be forgiven for wanting action on real crimes, particularly given the shameful record on rape prosecutions.

Instead, we get a whole host of verboten words and phrases that managers are encouraged to police. If you think employees of the state’s law enforcement agency should be able to publicly air concern about sex offenders in female prisons, you’re in for a shock. Even the term ‘transgender ideology’ is now ‘hate’ speech which must be challenged in the workplace.

Piling on the absurdity, the accompanying infographics imply you’re not doing your bit as an ‘ally’ if you don’t ask people for their pronouns before addressing them. This is because, despite millions of years of evolution and the two eyes in your head, ‘you can’t determine someone’s identity by the way they look’. Once again, a document which has all the appearance of being official is sent out to all staff pushing the delusion that sex is ‘assigned’ rather than ‘observed’ at birth.

You might think all this can be dismissed as harmless ‘woke nonsense’ that has no impact in the real world. But PiPP enjoys close access to officials and a formalised place in policy development. It has advised and been consulted on the immoral mess that sees biologically intact male offenders who identify as female allowed into female prisons, alongside many inmates already traumatised by years of male sexual violence. Again, the guide makes it clear than any mention of this in anything but an affirmatory way is another ‘dog whistle’ playing on ‘unfounded fears’. Try telling that to the victims of violent rapist Karen White, who when legally still a man got into and sexually assaulted two women in New Hall Prison. 

As if that wasn’t bad enough, another intranet page badged with both HMPPS and PiPP logos says they are ‘currently working with Security, Order and Counter terrorism regarding searching policy’. Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t want these totally unqualified and ideologically motivated activists anywhere near policies or practice that affect the security of our prisons and the staff and offenders in them. 

Pity the poor HMPPS comms person on duty who had to respond to this leak with the usual limp word salad – this is not the ‘official’ position, there will be a ‘review’. Nor is the situation helped by having a Director General who posed for the HMPPS intranet ‘taking the knee’ outside Durham prison, which at the time that was drowning in violence, distress and chaos.

That illustrates the problem in a nutshell. We can either have a performative public protection service that indulges and coddles every progressive orthodoxy, or one that is focused on protecting the public and fitting offenders to lead useful lives. Currently we have one where fashion dictates form. Where frontline officers are leaving faster than they are being recruited in prisons awash with brutality, drugs and indolence. Where last week the Chief Inspector of prisons revealed a local prison HMP Exeter in continuing freefall despite the elapse of four years since his first Urgent Notification to officials.

Mr Raab has his work cut out for him as he tries to impose his will. The fish rots from the head. 

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Professor Ian Acheson is Senior Advisor to the Counter Extremism Project.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.