Gender reform bill: Scottish government to go to court in September to challenge UK’s block on law change

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The Scottish government will go to court in September to challenge Westminster’s decision to block its much-debated gender reform bill.

Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville confirmed in April that Holyrood would lodge a legal bid to contest the UK government’s use of a section 35 order to stop the bill from receiving royal assent and becoming law.

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has now confirmed a three-day hearing to consider the case will take place at the Court of Session in Edinburgh between 19-21 September.

It will be heard by Lady Haldane, a judge who ruled in 2022 that the definition of sex was “not limited to biological or birth sex”.

In what became known as “the Haldane decision”, she judged that in the context of the 2010 Equality Act, sex referred to a person’s sex recognised by law, and not simply their biological sex.

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Sky explains the political row over the bill

The controversial Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill was passed by MSPs just before Christmas.

The bill aims to simplify the process for trans people to change gender in the eyes of the law.

No diagnosis or medical reports would be required, and the period in which adult applicants need to have lived in their acquired gender would be cut to three months.

Teenagers aged 16 and 17 applying for a gender recognition certificate would have to live in their acquired gender for at least six months.

Critics have argued the proposals undermine women’s rights and single-sex spaces.

Read more:
Why is the bill controversial?

It became a constitutional dispute in January when the UK’s Scottish Secretary Alister Jack took the unprecedented step of using Section 35 of the Scotland Act to prevent the bill from gaining royal assent.

Mr Jack claimed the bill clashed with UK-wide equality laws, and argued differing systems of gender recognition north and south of the border would create “significant complications”.

First Minister Humza Yousaf has previously insisted that if the Scottish government had failed to challenge the use of Section 35 this would send a “signal that the UK government can veto any legislation they disagree with at a whim”.

The SNP leader added that legal action was the “only means of defending our parliament’s democracy from the Westminster veto”.

Gender reform bill: Scottish government to go to court in September to challenge UK's block on law change
First Minister Humza Yousaf

However, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said the UK government had taken “very careful and considered advice” on the issue.

In response to the Scottish government’s legal challenge, the UK government said it would “robustly defend” Mr Jack’s decision.

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