The Supreme Court today handed down its judgment in the case of R(Coll) v Secretary of State for Justice, in which Ms Coll, a woman from London, complained of the limited provision of approved premises for women in England and Wales. In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court held that the current distribution of approved premises constitutes unlawful sex discrimination against women. Sally Ireland of Garden Court Chambers acted for The Howard League for Penal Reform, who were given permission to intervene in the case and provide written submissions.
Certain prisoners released on licence may be required to live in approved premises (APs). While there are 94 such establishments for men, there are only six for women and none in London or in Wales.
This means that women are much more likely than men to be placed in APs that are far from their homes and families. They may suffer long-term disadvantages in terms of accommodation, rehabilitation and employment, as well as in re-establishing their relationships in the community after release.
The Supreme Court noted that the Ministry of Justice has never properly addressed the problem of providing sufficient and suitable places in APs for women which achieve, so far as practicable, the policy of placing them as close to home as possible.
In the absence of any attempt by the Ministry of Justice to address the possible impact upon women, assess whether there is a disadvantage, how significant it is and what might be done to mitigate it or to meet the particular circumstances of women, the Supreme Court found that the discrimination in the present system had not been justified under the Equality Act 2010.
Lady Hale said, “Being required to live in an AP a long way away from home is a detriment. A woman is much more likely to suffer this detriment than is a man, because of the geographical distribution of the small number of Approved Premises available for women. This is treating her less favourably than a man because of her sex.”
Sally Ireland of Garden Court Chambers acted for The Howard League for Penal Reform, led by Henrietta Hill QC and Ruth Brander of Doughty Street Chambers. Sally is a member of the Prison Law Team at Garden Court Chambers.
The full judgment is available: R (on the application of Coll) (Appellant) v Secretary of State for Justice (Respondent)  UKSC 40