Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sex Change Woman Wins Pension Fight

A SEX-CHANGE woman who was told that she must wait for her pension until the male pension age of 65 was a victim of a breach of human rights, European judges ruled yesterday.

Linda Grant, now 68, from St Albans, was awarded £1,100 in damages and £19,000 in costs by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg because of the Government’s refusal to recognise her female status and give her a pension from the age of 60.

That violated her “right to respect for private and family life”, enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, the judges held.

Ms Grant lived as a man until the age of 24, serving in the Army for three years and then working as a police officer. After sex-change surgery, Ms Grant’s birth certificate continued to describe her as male, although she was identified as a woman on her National Insurance card.

She also paid National Insurance contributions at the female rate until the difference in rates between men and women was abolished in 1975.

She applied for a state pension from her 60th birthday, but was told she would have to wait until 65, the pensionable age for men, because the decision was governed by gender details on the birth certificate.

Her appeal was turned down, but she demanded that her case be reopened when the European Court judges backed a similar case brought in 2002 by Christine Goodwin.

A year ago Ms Grant was issued with a gender recognition certificate under the Government’s new Gender Recognition Act which gave legal recognition to “acquired gender” for social security benefits and pension rights. Yesterday the human rights judges praised the Government’s “laudable” speed in drafting and passing new gender recognition legislation in the wake of the Goodwin verdict.

But they added: “It is not the case that that process (changing the law) could be regarded as in any way suspending the applicant’s victim status.”

Ms Grant’s “victim status” only came to an end when the new legislation came into force, but there had been no justification for failing to recognise her sex-change situation from the moment of the Goodwin judgment three years before.

Yesterday’s ruling comes after a judgment in the separate EU court, the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which declared earlier this month that the Government’s refusal to give a sex-change woman a pension at the age of 60 was illegal under EU equality laws. That judgment said that the right not to be discriminated against on grounds of sex was one of the fundamental human rights that the EU court — as well as the European Court of Human Rights — had a duty to uphold.

In the 2002 case of the former bus driver Christine Goodwin, the European Court found that Britain’s failure to recognise her new identity in law breached her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. Ms Goodwin had argued that her human rights had been denied because she was unable to draw a pension until she was 65.

Ms Goodwin, who had a full sex-change operation in 1990, told the court that she was not given a new National Insurance number after the operation. She had experienced sexual harassment and embarrassment at work after her employers discovered that she had formerly been a man.

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