Ms A is a woman who was born with the body of a man. She has lived her whole life as a woman, presents herself that way to the world, and has had gender reassignment surgery. However, in 1996 when she applied to join the Police, Ms A was — in the eyes of the law — still a man.
In 1996, Ms A applied to join the police. Police regularly have to perform searches on apprehended suspects; it’s a key part of their duties. By law only female police officers may perform searches upon women, and only male officers upon male suspects. And there lay the problem for Ms A: as a person who is for all intents and purposes female, she can only search women. However, under UK law, she was still a man and therefore not permitted to search female suspects. The Police decided Ms A would be unable to perform key police duties, and refused her application.
It is illegal to refuse to employ someone because of their sex under the Sex Discrimination Act, and also under Article 8 of the Convention, the right to family and private life.
The House of Lords considered the status of trans people under UK and European law. It noted that since the police originally refused Ms A’s application back in 1996, there have been significant changes in community notions of sexuality and gender, as well as a key European Court of Human Rights judgment involving transexual rights. It was time, as far as the judges were concerned, that UK law caught up. In this case, the House of Lords decided that transsexual people who take on the identity of one sex or another are, legally, members of that sex.
Ms A is therefore a woman; women can join the police; Ms A can be a police officer; and the law now sees transsexual people as they see themselves.