Jolyon Maugham QC (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Artillery Row

A QC’s truth

Jolyon Maugham and Professor Lavery are misrepresenting the Bell v Tavistock case

“In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

Of course, the unspoken corollary is that those on the self-proclaimed “right side of history” seem to think they can get away with the most brazen untruths without being challenged. 

That was my first thought last Friday when I read the transcript of a conversation between Jolyon Maugham QC and Professor Grace Lavery about the High Court’s reversal of much of Bell v Tavistock

Maugham is a campaigning barrister but perhaps best known for his decision to bludgeon a fox on Boxing Day in 2019 and share this exploit on social media, to widespread condemnation. Lavery, meanwhile, does not appear to have any qualifications in law or medicine but specialises in “Victorian literature and culture, trans feminist studies, and contemporary popular culture” as a Professor at Berkeley University in California. 

Maugham has been vocal in his dissatisfaction with the High Court decision in Bell v Tavistock that puberty blockers (PB) followed by cross sex hormones (CSH) for children is an experimental treatment, to which they are unlikely to be able to offer informed consent. He was thus instrumental in raising money via the Good Law Project and the ‘trans defence fund’ to bring a second High Court action about children and puberty blockers (Consent to Gender Affirming Treatment AB v CD & Ors).

This decision affirmed that parents could consent to their children taking PB, removing much of the practical impact of Bell as a mechanism to protect children from experimental treatment with unclear but lifelong consequences. The Court of Appeal will examine Bell again in June 2021 and it will be interesting to see how they pull all this together, if indeed this is possible. 

Ms Lavery’s position is also clear to anyone who read her December 2020 article for Foreign Policy about the Bell decision, ‘A High Court Decision in Britain Puts Trans People Everywhere at Risk’ and claiming “the so-called gender critical movement is illogical, anti-feminist and cruel”. That article was subject to a number of serious corrections after publication, including that she “misrepresented the court’s evidence on the percentage of children who progress from puberty blockers to hormones”.

It’s with some trepidation that I attempt any kind of criticism of the interview, knowing as I do the likely reactions of its two protagonists

These corrections only came about because US journalist Jesse Singal complained to the editor. As a reward for his commitment to necessary journalistic accuracy he became victim of a concentrated internet campaign of defamation that he was a “known stalker of transwomen”.

So it’s with some trepidation that I attempt any kind of criticism of the interview, knowing as I do the characters and likely reactions of its two protagonists and their supporters. But the truth is important. We ought to be allowed to speak it. It is a measure of how far we have fallen and how bad things are getting that I find myself not merely stating what should be obvious, but that my criticisms are levelled not at some anonymous internet trolls but a Professor at an elite US university and a QC. 

I can’t comment on every misrepresentation or exaggeration in the interview as almost every line revealed an easily provable untruth. But I comment here on the two I think most serious. You may have a different focus; I would urge anyone even remotely uneasy about what is being done to children in the name of ‘diversity and inclusion’ to read the Bell judgment and this interview and make up your own mind. 

The first serious and untrue claim is that the High Court in Bell did not consider proper evidence about the consequences of puberty blockers. I pause here to note that whatever you think of the quality of the experts before the High Court in Bell, the recent assessment commissioned by NHS England as part of the Cass review into gender identity services for children and young people, concluded that existing studies of the drugs were small and “subject to bias and confounding”.

Maugham claimed bafflement at the poor quality of evidence the High Court were prepared to accept in Bell. 

I couldn’t understand why the court was adopting such a relaxed stance in relation to the evidence that was being produced by Keira—evidence that was from quite weird marginalized figures in the medical establishment, by and large. Where it was from more mainstream figures they were speaking outside their area of expertise.

Lavery asked for their names. Maugham didn’t “have them to hand” despite having “commissioned” a “little bit of an investigation into all of the witnesses”. His investigations weren’t extensive enough to allow him to recall their actual names but he did feel able to say this:

And there are lots and lots of—I mean, there’s a very odd collection of people: one of them is a vet, some of them are lawyers, some of them are sort of international traveling advocates for—or rather against—affirming trans kids. Very, very few of them sit—few or none—sit inside the sort of mainstream of opinion.

I had to blink a few times after reading that. Had the High Court really put their reliance in evidence from a vet and a motley collection of ‘travelling transphobes’? (spoiler alert: no). The judgment goes through the available evidence with meticulous care, including from the Health Regulation Authority and Dr de Vries, who leads the Centre of Expertise on Gender Dysphoria at the Amsterdam University Medical Centre in the Netherlands (CEGD). 

Maugham is critical of the High Court for not challenging the evidence. He does not seem to have read or understood paragraph 70 of the judgment, which found that the Tavistock had simply failed to provide the necessary evidence: 

It is not however the court’s role to judge the weight to be given to various different experts in a judicial review. In our view, more important is the evidence from the defendant and the evidence base it relies upon for the use of PBs….the lack of a firm evidence base for their use is evident from the very limited published material as to the effectiveness of the treatment, however it is measured. 

Maugham’s bizarre defence of the Tavistock is that they suddenly found themselves in a situation that they couldn’t possibly have anticipated:

…a sort of de facto, judge-led public inquiry into the utility of puberty blockers, not knowing that you were going to, you didn’t turn up with the right evidence and the right witnesses and the right arguments.

This is remarkable. If the Tavistock and those advising them genuinely did not realise that a judicial review of children’s ability to consent to the treatment they offered would involve some evidence about the treatment that was being offered, then the Tavistock needs to be shut down immediately. 

Then came Maugham’s astonishing attack on Mrs Justice Lieven as transphobe adjacent, saying:

She is simultaneously a hero amongst the Good Law Project’s overwhelmingly female staff team for the work that she’s done as a judge protecting the right to an abortion. And now, a sort of fallen hero for what we all regard as the work that she’s done to roll back trans rights, to empower transphobia and transphobes in domestic public discourse…

He knows as a serving Judge she may not respond. His criticisms were baseless and damage public confidence in our legal system and in the Bar. He should not have made them.

The astonishing thing in all of this is to keep having to remind myself that Maugham is a barrister

The astonishing thing in all of this is to keep having to remind myself that Maugham is a barrister. And not just any old barrister but a Queen’s Counsel. He ought to understand evidence, proof, the parens patriae jurisdiction of the family court and that it is ill-advised to make personal attacks on a member of the judiciary, rather than challenge the quality of the decision made. He apparently has no firm grasp on any of these things, despite saying: “I’m a practicing Queen’s Counsel, so I’m a practicing [sic] trial lawyer, and so I have to choose my language carefully”.

It is not merely sad to see such impoverished and dishonest discussion between two people who ought to command respect and trust by virtue of their positions. Both however have done little else but obfuscate and misrepresent, adding to the pollution of any attempt to have sensible discussions about any of this. 

Of course no child is any safer after all of this. We are all in a much more dangerous position. Every day now brings me a curious sense of dread as to what new lie I will see told about me online by those who object to my efforts to have public conversation about the need to protect children. 

When apparently all organisations, including the police, have been captured by an ideology that says evidence and debate is ‘transphobia’, it seems the only ones still insisting on evidence in order to protect children, are the Judges. It is one thing for a professor in Victorian literature to fail to appreciate the importance of the rule of law. Quite another when it’s a QC.

I continue because I cannot think of anything more important than being allowed to tell the truth. 

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