The UK Government acted lawfully in vetoing Holyrood’s gender self-ID Bill, Scotland’s Outer House of the Court of Session has ruled.
In the Court’s decision, Judge Lady Haldane ruled that Scottish Secretary Alister Jack ‘reasonably and lawfully’ blocked the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill in order to protect the integrity of UK-wide equalities legislation.
The proposals, which MSPs approved by 86 to 39 votes last December, sought to allow 16-year-olds to change their legal sex by self-declaration without a medical diagnosis, and reduce the waiting time for adults from two years to just three months.
Welcoming the judgment, Mr Jack said: “I was clear that this legislation would have had adverse effects on the operation of the law as it applies to reserved matters, including on important Great Britain-wide equality protections.
“Following this latest Court defeat for the Scottish Government, their ministers need to stop wasting taxpayers’ money pursuing needless legal action and focus on the real issues which matter to people in Scotland – such as growing the economy and cutting waiting lists.”
The Scottish Government has reportedly spent almost £230,000 on the legal challenge, and has 21 days to decide whether to appeal the ruling.
It follows from all of the foregoing analysis that the challenge to the Order pronounced under section 35 of the 1998 Act, laid on 17 January 2023, fails. Judge Lady Haldane
First Minister Yousaf called the Court’s ruling “a dark day for devolution” before adding “We, of course, respect the Court’s judgment and will take time to consider its findings”.
He was backed by prominent trans-activist India Willoughby, who claimed the decision “stinks of The Establishment closing ranks behind the scenes”.
But on social media, others criticised the decision to ‘waste taxpayers’ money’ challenging ‘an open and shut case’, and called the ruling ‘a win for women, children and safeguarding’.
This is a dark day for devolution.
Sovereignty should lie with the people of Scotland, not a Westminster Government we didn't vote for with the ability to overrule our laws.
We, of course, respect the Court's judgment and will take time to consider its findings.
— Humza Yousaf (@HumzaYousaf) December 8, 2023
In January, the Scottish Secretary – exercising powers under Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998, Section 35 – prohibited the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament from submitting the Holyrood-backed Bill for Royal Assent.
Yousaf branded the UK Government’s move a “power grab” and lodged a petition for judicial review.
During the Court of Session hearing in September, the UK Government said the Lord Advocate for Scotland’s claim that the veto was based on a “policy disagreement” was a “red herring”.
Lady Haldane has now upheld the Westminster Government’s argument, stating that the court found “no reference, direct or indirect” that “a policy disagreement lay behind the making of the Order”.
In January 2023, former Supreme Court judge Lord Hope told BBC Scotland it would be a “mistake” for the Scottish Government to go to court. He said it was likely a court would decide that Scottish Secretary Alister Jack had “acted reasonably” in blocking the reforms.
A poll conducted by Savanta ComRes for The Scotsman found that more than half (53 per cent) of 1,004 Scottish adults surveyed said the SNP-Green coalition should not challenge the UK Government’s decision to block the Bill.