Court of Appeal to hear challenge to landmark puberty blockers ruling

A landmark High Court ruling over the use of puberty-blocking drugs for transgender children will be challenged by an NHS trust at the Court of Appeal.

In a judgment in December, three High Court judges ruled that children under 16 with gender dysphoria can only consent to the use of puberty blockers if they are able to understand the “immediate and long-term consequences of the treatment”.

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However, the judges said it was “highly unlikely” that a child 13 or under would be able to consent to the treatment, and that it was “doubtful” a child aged 14 or 15 would understand the consequences.

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust takes referrals of children and young people experiencing gender dysphoria from the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. Picture: James Hardisty

The case was brought by Keira Bell – a woman who began taking puberty blockers when she was 16 before later “detransitioning” – against the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, which runs the UK’s only gender identity development service for children.

The legal challenge was also brought by Mrs A, the mother of a teenage autistic girl who was on the waiting list for treatment.

The Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust is appealing the High Court’s decision.

During the original hearing last year, Ms Bell and Mrs A argued that there is “a very high likelihood” that children who start taking hormone blockers will later begin taking cross-sex hormones, which they say cause “irreversible changes”.

However, the trust – as well as University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust, to which Tavistock refers children and young people experiencing gender dysphoria – argued that taking puberty blockers and later cross-sex hormones were “entirely separate” stages of treatment.

LGBT campaigners expressed concern after the court’s decision, with the Stonewall charity arguing the ruling was a “green light to those who want to use this as an opportunity to roll back not just the healthcare rights of trans young people, but the rights of all young people”.

Nine organisations or individuals – including human rights group Liberty and professional body The Endocrine Society – have intervened in the appeal, which will be heard over two days.

Today’s hearing before the Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett – sitting with Sir Geoffrey Vos and Lady Justice King – will begin at 10.30am and will be livestreamed.