UK government faces legal action after blocking Scotland’s gender recognition law

Humza Yousaf’s Scottish government to challenge decision

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Wednesday 12 April 2023 13:54 BST
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<p>Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf (Andy Buchanan/PA)</p>

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf (Andy Buchanan/PA)

Scotland’s government is to press ahead with a legal challenge to Westminster's decision to veto gender ID reforms.

Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said the controversial Gender Recognition Reform Bill “was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Scottish Parliament, with support from members of all parties”.

Westminster’s use of a Section 35 order to block the legislation represents “an unprecedented challenge to the Scottish Parliament's ability to legislate on clearly devolved matters and it risks setting a dangerous constitutional precedent”, she added.

Ms Somerville confirmed that Scottish ministers would “lodge a petition for a judicial review” of the decision by Rishi Sunak’s administration.

She said offers to work with the UK government on potential changes to the bill had been “refused outright” and that a legal challenge was “our only reasonable means of resolving this situation”.

Mr Sunak defended the decision to block the reforms, which streamline the process of a person legally changing their gender.

“It was a decision that we made after taking very careful and considered advice," he told reporters while on a visit to Belfast.

“We had concerns, as the UK Government – the Secretary of State set this out at the time – concerns about how Scotland's changes to the gender recognition act would interact with reserved powers, about the operation of the Equalities Act, the protection of women elsewhere in the UK as well.

“That's why we took the decision to block the GRR. Obviously there's a court process, we will follow that through.”

Hamza Yousaf, who last month took over from Nicola Sturgeon, described Westminster’s move as an “undemocratic veto over legislation that was passed by a majority of the Scottish Parliament”.

The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill was backed by 88 votes to 33 in the Scottish Parliament, but the UK government’s Scottish Secretary Alastair Jack blocked the bill from gaining royal assent, claiming it would interfere with the working of the UK’s Equality Act.

The bill aims to streamline and simplify the process of obtaining a gender recognition certificate by removing the need for a psychiatric diagnosis of gender dysphoria in order to obtain one. It also reduces the time someone must have been permanently living in their gender before they can apply for a certificate from two years to three months, and lowers the minimum age from 18 to 16.

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