UK Catholic schools advised against gender-neutral washrooms

May 2, 2016
SIMON CALDWELL
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Catholic schools that voluntarily set up gender-neutral toilets or changing rooms to accommodate increasing numbers of transgender students could be sued in the event of a sex attack, a Catholic lawyer warned.

Neil Addison, director of the Liverpool-based Thomas More Legal Centre, said schools that adopted such arrangements voluntarily would leave themselves open to legal action if a crime was committed because of their policy.

Britain does not have a law that would force schools to set up such facilities.

His remarks came just days after Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools and head of Ofsted, the government body regulating standards in state schools, suggested head teachers might introduce gender-neutral facilities.

"I don't see why schools should not have that (gender-neutral facilities) if it's well-policed and well-supervised and well-monitored," he said in an interview with London-based LBC Radio.

"As circumstances change and . . . perhaps more parents want this, then obviously head teachers will try and accommodate that where possible," said Wilshaw, a Catholic and former head teacher.

However, Addison, a former senior prosecutor who has advised the English and Welsh Catholic bishops on legal matters, said such arrangements would be reckless.

"We are getting cases of young children getting arrested for sexual offences even below the age of criminal responsibility," he told Catholic News Service in an April 15 telephone interview.

"What happens if you have a gender-neutral toilet and a sex attack of some sort takes place? Could the school be liable? I think the school could be," he said.

Addison said if the government made gender-neutral toilets compulsory, schools would be protected from legal action following an assault because they would have been "only obeying the law."

But if a head teacher chose to introduce the facilities then the school could be "in breach of a duty of care if something happened in these mixed toilets."

U.K. teaching unions and health services are reporting increases in the numbers of young people who claim to be a different gender from the one in which they were born. Teachers and others have expressed a desire to be more accommodating.