The UK Government has blocked progress of Scotland’s controversial Gender Recognition Bill.
The GRA was designed to make it easier for people in Scotland to change their legal gender.
Under the current rules, trans people must meet certain requirements to change their gender legally, including being at least 18 years old, obtaining a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria and proving they have been living in their chosen gender for two years.
The new bill would allow individuals from the age of 16 to change legal gender without medical diagnosis and on the basis of self-determination alone. It would also reduce the requirement for living in line with a chosen gender to three months, down from two years, with a three month reflection period between application and the certificate being issued.
The bill was passed by Scottish lawmakers last month, with 86 voting for and 39 against the changes.
Scotland’s devolved government was established in 1999, with powers to pass its own laws on issues such as healthcare, education and environment. The UK Parliament, however, retains control over areas such as defense, national security, migration and foreign policy, and has power to halt Scottish bills from becoming law in certain circumstances. One such circumstance could be when Westminster believes a Scottish bill would be incompatible with a UK-wide law on an issue that falls outside Scotland’s powers.
The UK Parliament has four weeks to review a Scottish bill after it’s been passed by the Scottish government, after which it is sent to the King for Royal Assent for formal approval to become law. The deadline for intervention on the new gender bill was later this week.
In a statement on 16 January 2023, Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Jack said the bill would impact UK-wide equalities legislation. The intervention is on the basis that while the power over gender recognition laws is devolved to Scotland’s government, legislation governing equality is set by Westminster.
The Scottish government cannot overrule Westminister’s decision, but it may either amend the bill and bring it back to the Scottish Parliament, or mount a legal challenge by taking the UK government to court.
Jack commented: “The Bill would have a significant impact on, amongst other things, GB-wide equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales. I have concluded, therefore, that (blocking it) is the necessary and correct course of action.” He went on to say he hopes to find “a constructive way forward” if the Scottish government decided to make changes to the law and present it again.