Scottish Government to challenge gender Bill block in court
The Scottish Government is to challenge Westminster’s decision to block controversial gender recognition reforms in court – with Holyrood’s Social Justice Secretary insisting legal action is the “only reasonable way” of resolving the situation.
Shirley-Anne Somerville confirmed the Scottish Government is to lodge a petition for a judicial review after the UK Government turned to never-before-used powers under the Scotland Act to prevent legislation passed by Holyrood from gaining royal assent.
MSPs from all parties had backed the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill in December last year, with the legislation introduced to simplify and speed up the process for trans people to obtain legal recognition in their preferred gender.
But the UK Government said the Bill would have an adverse impact on the operation of the UK-wide Equalities Act, and Scottish Secretary Alister Jack confirmed Section 35 powers would be used to prevent the legislation from going forward.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Wednesday that that decision had been made “after taking very careful and considered advice”.
Speaking to reporters in Belfast, Mr Sunak added: “We had concerns, as the UK Government – the Secretary of State – set this out at the time, about how Scotland’s 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.”
Ms Somerville said the legislation had been “passed by an overwhelming majority of the Scottish Parliament, with support from members of all parties”.
She said the use of Section 35 represented “an unprecedented challenge to the Scottish Parliament’s ability to legislate on clearly devolved matters”, and “risks setting a dangerous constitutional precedent”.
Ms Somerville said: “In seeking to uphold the democratic will of the Parliament and defend devolution, Scottish ministers will lodge a petition for a judicial review of the Secretary of State for Scotland’s decision.
“The UK Government gave no advance warning of their use of the power, and neither did they ask for any amendments to the Bill throughout its nine-month passage through Parliament.
“Our offers to work with the UK Government on potential changes to the Bill have been refused outright by the Secretary of State, so legal challenge is our only reasonable means of resolving this situation.
“It is important to have clarity on the interpretation and scope of the Section 35 power and its impact on devolution. These matters should be legally tested in the courts.”
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