The Independent Custody Visitors Association (ICVA) has written to the Home Office to raise concerns about the fact that the needs of menstruating women in custody are not being met. The letter encloses counsel’s opinion in the matter of a proposed judicial review written by Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Angela Patrick, Doughty Street Chambers.
The ICVA have found that women and girls are often left without the assistance of female officers, without access to adequate and hygienic sanitary protection, or facilities for washing and changing. At its most stark, this can mean women left in paper suits without their underwear or sanitary protection. The letter states that these concerns are reflected in the reports of Her majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary the Fire and Rescue Services.
Based on counsel’s advice the ICVA’s position is that current practice may violate The Equality Act 2010, the Human Rights Act 1998 (Articles 3, 8 and 14) and the ordinary public law. Current failings appear to fall short of international obligations to women, including as provided in the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW”) and the Bangkok Rules on the treatment of women in custody.
The letter asks the home secretary to:
- Conduct a full review of the current national policy and practice on detention, women and sanitary protection including whether it complies with section 149 of the Equality Act 2010.
- Amend Code C to make express provision for the treatment of menstruating women as a group of detainees requiring special provision, ensuring access to appropriate sanitary protection, private and hygienic facilities for changing, ensuring access to women officers and that menstruation is considered with sensitivity during strip- searching and the removal of clothing to manage risk.
The practice of leaving women and girls without adequate sanitary protection is likely to be a breach of the right to respect for private life and may amount to degrading and inhuman treatment. The trauma of experiencing such indignity will be particularly acute for children. The ICVA’s letter and counsel’s advice suggest easily achievable steps to be taken to remedy the situation.