back to top

Court Process For Trans Teens Is "Inhumane", Says Judge

"There is an urgent need for statutory intervention."

Posted on

A judge has slammed the court process transgender teenagers must go through in order to access medical treatment.

Sean Davey for BuzzFeed

The court process, which is exclusive to Australia, requires transgender teenagers to apply to the Family Court in order to start oestrogen or testosterone treatment, usually around the age of 15 or 16.

In a decision dated December 22, Family Court judge Peter Tree criticised the process at length in a judgment allowing a 17-year-old transgender boy, known as Lucas, to start testosterone treatment.

"As if the general turmoil and challenges which being a teenager in our modern world generates are not enough, the additional burden of requiring an already vulnerable and highly marginalised group to individually litigate to vindicate their identity seems inhumane," Tree wrote.

"No other group of adolescents is required to do so. Having already traversed a far more difficult path than many of their peers, it can only serve to further increase their burden."

Tree also wrote that the process appears to be "of no benefit to the child" and "anything but in their best interests".

Since the Family Court process for cross-sex hormones was instituted in 2004, not a single teenager has been denied treatment.

Tree joins a procession of transgender people, their families, justices, legal experts, and medical professionals who believe the court process is unnecessary.

Advocates say it is a "rubber stamp" process that does little more than delay treatment and provoke great anxiety in transgender children and families.

But despite criticism – and some signs of progress in 2016 – the process can only be overturned by a court appeal or by federal legislation.

Tree noted in his judgment that an appeal overturning the process is unlikely, given the court usually approves the application.

"Therefore, in my view, there is an urgent need for statutory intervention in order to undo the consequences of Re Jamie," he wrote.

"The sooner that children such as Lucas and their families do not have to endure the ordeal of litigation in order to get on with their lives, the better."

A spokesperson for the attorney general's department told BuzzFeed News the government is aware of the problem and considering its options.

"The government is sensitive to the concerns of transgender children and their families that the need to apply to the Family Court for orders relating to stage two treatment can be expensive, stressful and delay a child’s access to treatment," they said.

"The government continues to actively consider options for reform in this area."

Labor shadow minister for equality Terri Butler told BuzzFeed News she was "very concerned" about the court process, noting it is expensive and can take a long time.

"People I’ve spoken to in the trans community often nominate this as a key issue," she said. "The Turnbull government should make clear what they intend to do about this situation."

In his decision, Tree described the scene in the courtroom after he indicated Lucas would be allowed to start cross-sex hormones.

"Lucas’s face relaxed into relief, and his mother, who was sitting at the bar table next to him, flashed him a quick, but revealing, smile. Lucas’s father commenced to openly weep ... and remained doing so for the balance of the hearing. A tremendous burden was lifting."

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.