Scottish ministers did not know about the decision to assess a transgender woman convicted of double rape last week at a women’s prison, according to the Holyrood justice secretary, prompting the Scottish Conservatives to demand a “detailed timeline” after a succession of U-turns.
Keith Brown’s statement to MSPs on Tuesday afternoon followed his announcement on Sunday that no transgender prisoner with a history of violence against women will be accommodated in a women’s prison pending an urgent review of all transgender inmates, and after heavy criticism from opposition parties of the government’s “botched” and “chaotic” handling of the case.
On Monday, the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, said her government has nothing to apologise for in its handling of the developing controversy that began a week ago when Isla Bryson was transferred to Scotland’s sole female-only prison, Cornton Vale, for initial assessment in segregation.
It was later reported that Tiffany Scott, who is subject to an order for lifelong restriction – reserved for Scotland’s most violent and dangerous offenders – after admitting stalking a 13-year-old girl by sending letters from jail while living as a man had been granted a transfer to the female estate.
Questions were also raised over the decision to transfer another transgender woman, Katie Dolatowski, who was convicted of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl, to Cornton Vale last year.
Last week, it emerged that the Scottish Prison Service had overruled an initial decision by the court service to take Bryson to Barlinnie, a men’s prison, after the offender was remanded in custody to await sentencing at the end of February.
After Brown defended the SPS decision to MSPs last Wednesday, Sturgeon announced at first minister’s questions on Thursday that Bryson would be moved to a male facility. It later emerged that she had made a rare intervention during a meeting involving Brown, although her official spokesperson said the first minister had not ordered the Prison Service to move Bryson, a point Brown reiterated on Tuesday.
Brown told MSPs on Tuesday that he was “very conscious of the importance of maintaining public confidence in the justice system”, but added: “We must not allow the legitimate questions that have been asked to fuel the view that trans women suddenly pose an inherent threat to women when that is not the case”.
He said that the temporary ban was “not dissimilar” to the recent tightening of policy announced by Dominic Raab, the UK’s justice secretary for England and Wales, but said there would still be “exceptional circumstances” where Scottish National party ministers would formally intervene.