A psychotherapist, refused permission by a university to study cases of people who have surgery to reverse gender reassignment, is taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, James Caspian, 61, a counsellor with 10 years of experience specialising in therapy for transgender people, was told that to research a non ‘politically correct’ topic for a Masters dissertation could attract criticism and was undesirable.
Since launching legal action against Bath Spa University in 2017, however, UK courts have refused to hear his case, leaving him with no alternative but to appeal to Europe.
Submitting his case to the ECHR, his lawyers will argue that Mr Caspian has exhausted domestic remedies to have his case heard, that his right of access to court has been violated, his freedom to pursue legitimate academic research has been breached, and that the basis of the decision to interfere with his academic freedom discriminated against him.
Patients were getting younger
Between 2007-2017, Mr Caspian, a registered UK psychotherapist, had worked with patients who were medically transitioning, or considering medically transitioning, their gender.
By 2013 he began to see an alarming trend that patients were getting younger and there was a surge in the numbers of young women presenting with complex mental health issues.
Furthermore, there were growing concerns about the number of patients who were regretting their transitions and surgery and wanted to detransition.
As a new and escalating phenomenon, there was little if any research on the issue of detransitioning.
Therefore, in 2014, Mr Caspian enrolled on a part time M.A. in Counselling and Psychotherapy at Bath Spa University, intent on researching this subject.
On 14 November 2015, Mr. Caspian submitted his proposed research entitled: ‘An examination of the experiences of people who have undergone Reverse Gender Re-assignment surgery.’
On 1 December 2015, the School University Ethics Sub-Committee gave permission for Mr Caspian to carry out his research proposal, commenting: “This application and accompanying research proposal has addressed the necessary ethical protocols. It has taken particular care to acknowledge the potential sensitivity of the research focus and appears to have the necessary protocols in place should any participants experience psychological harm from the interview process.”
During his preliminary research Mr Caspian discovered growing numbers of people who were saying that they regretted their treatment and had or wanted to detransition.
Mr Caspian also discovered on World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH) internet forums that any discussions on detransitioning were often being aggressively censored.
Based on his findings, he decided that he would need to slightly amend his research topic to include case studies of individuals who had reversed transition without necessarily reversing their surgery.
He advertised his research topic on the internet and informed his tutor that trans activists may criticise the project as a result.
Mr Caspian was subsequently told that he would need to re-apply to the University Ethics Sub-Committee who would need to reconsider his slightly amended research proposal. He was also asked to add a note to his proposal about the potential criticism.
On 15 November 2016, Mr Caspian was informed that his revised research proposal had been rejected. His subsequent appeal was also rejected with the sub-committee stating:
‘Engaging in a potentially ‘politically incorrect’ piece of research carries a risk to the University. Attacks on social media may not be confined to the researcher but may involve the University. This needs to be assessed by the University Ethics Committee.’
Regarding the criticism the university might receive, the sub-committee stated: ‘The posting of unpleasant material on blogs or social media may be detrimental to the reputation of the University. This needs to be assessed and addressed.
‘This was further discussed with the Dean of the Institute of Education and the ethical approval form has been declined. This is a complex project and the risks are too great to the University and the researcher. Working on a less ethically complex piece of research to complete the Masters would be more appropriate.’
Apart from this superficial concern that the research was ‘politically incorrect’, no other substantive difference existed between the proposal that Mr Caspian had earlier had accepted and the re-submitted proposal which was rejected.
In January 2017, Mr Caspian requested a refund on his course fees, but this was also refused. The following month he launched legal action.
By June 2020, however, every avenue of legal proceedings had been blocked. Mr Caspian was passed from pillar to post via the High court to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) and back to the High Court.
All refused to hear the substance of his case due to overly strict legal procedures, and despite the OIA recognising that the case had merit, Mr Caspian was told his claim was out of time, leaving him no option but to turn to Europe.
Mr Caspian’s application to the ECHR states: “The procedural history of Mr Caspian’s claim fits the very definition of suffering from excessive formalism and a fundamental lack of flexibility.”
A decision by the European Court as to the admissibility of the case is likely to occur in the first half of 2021.
Mr Caspian commented: “I have been faced with no alternative but to take this case to Europe. Too much is at stake for academic freedom and for hundreds, if not thousands, of young people who are saying that they are being harmed and often silenced by a rigid view that has become a kind of transgender ideology and permits no discussion.
“My preliminary research had revealed a growing controversial schism in transgender politics and inpatient experiences which greatly concerned me and confirmed the need for this research.
“Some of the people I spoke to said they were too traumatised to speak about their experiences, which proved it was even more important to research the issue, not less.
“I was astonished therefore that a university could censor a research project on the grounds that what people ‘might’ post on social media may be detrimental to the reputation of the university.
“If a university – a place for the exchange of ideas, discussion, dissent, questioning, research and critical thinking – is unable to tolerate the risk of criticism, where then are left the most basic tenets of academic and intellectual freedom of enquiry? The implications for a democratic society of the suppression of information and discussion are deeply worrying.
“I have felt morally obliged to speak out because people are telling me that they’ve been harmed, and my profession should do no harm.
“Many people have said to me since that they have felt that they could not speak in opposition to transgender ideology, and some people have even said that they have thought they couldn’t even think it. People are self-censoring, not only speech, but their thoughts on this issue, and that is what this case has to challenge and ultimately help change.”
3,000 per cent spike
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Over the past decade there has been a 3,000 per cent spike in young girls and women being referred to Gender Identity Clinics. This is a phenomenon taking place in every Western nation with many regretting the life changing decisions they subsequently make. Why? That was the question James Caspian wanted to research.
“Yet in the current climate, anyone who attempts to research, explain and answer these questions is denounced and silenced. This is because the truth and the harm being done to many young people is devastating.
“The powerful voices of those living with trans regret must be heard and allowed to be properly researched. Only then can we fully understand why this is happening and prevent more young people from regretting undertaking harmful and life-changing treatment.
“This case has had a chilling effect on academic research into transgenderism. Universities have the unique role as marketplaces of ideas that foster free thinking. Rather than censoring speech and inhibiting free thinking, they should actively be promoting the right of students and scholars to think, hear, develop, research and express autonomous views of research.
“The fact that UK courts have refused to hear James Caspian’s case is a telling injustice, but by taking this ground-breaking case to Europe he will finally have the opportunity to have justice served and to set a crucial legal precedent.”
Find out more about James Caspian