England: Police forces ‘breaching rights’ of menstruating women in custody

Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC

Police forces in England and Wales have been accused of breaching human rights standards by continuing to fail to meet the needs of menstruating women detained in police custody.

An independent legal opinion by Doughty Street Chambers barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC and Angela Patrick warns police are likely breaching the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Act 2010.

In some circumstances, they say that leaving women and girls without access to a pad or tampon in custody may amount to degrading treatment under international human rights law.

The barristers recommend that, to avoid litigation, Home Secretary Amber Rudd should conduct “a full review of the current national policy and practice on detention, women and their periods” and to “make express provision for the treatment of menstruating women as a group requiring special provision to be made for their detention”.

The legal opinion has been published by the Independent Custody Visiting Association (ICVA), a publicly-funded watchdog which is calling on the UK government to take urgent action on the issue.

Katie Kempen, chief executive of the ICVA, said: “Dignity in the cells must mean dignity for all. Period.

“No woman or girl should be left bleeding in a cell in indignity simply for want of a difficult conversation on an inexpensive box of tampons.”

Martyn Underhill, Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner and chair of the ICVA, added: “Forces must be given clear guidance and adequate support to ensure that the rights of women and girls in custody are met both on paperand in practice.

“ICVA stands ready to work with Ministers and officers on the ground to better protect women from degrading and undignified treatment in custody.”