Scottish Government plans for a new law on so-called conversion therapy have been dismissed as “jellyfish legislation” in a withering legal opinion for The Christian Institute.
In a 46-page critique, leading human rights lawyer Aidan O’Neill KC described SNP/Green coalition proposals to outlaw ‘conversion practices’ as “ill-thought out” and “fundamentally illiberal”.
The proposals would see parents and church leaders jailed if convicted of involvement in so-called ‘conversion practices’.
Prayer and conversation
The Scottish Government wants to ban ‘practices’ that seek to change or suppress someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Activists are campaigning for this to cover “casual conversations”, “gentle, non-coercive prayer”, and even “depending on your parents’ ‘consent’” to change gender.
The draft legislation’s wording has been informed by reports and recommendations made by the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee and an ‘Expert Advisory Group on Ending Conversion Practices’ appointed by the Scottish Government.
Both groups called on the Government to model its legislation on a draconian law currently in force in Victoria, Australia.
ill-thought out” and “fundamentally illiberal”
Mr O’Neill advised the Institute: “if passed this legislation would criminalise parents who sought to exercise any form of parental authority or guidance in relation to their children as regards issues around sexuality and gender which conflicted with the official position now adopted by the State”.
The KC also stated that it would “have a chilling effect” on the ability of churches “to teach and preach and lobby and proselytise, on any matters relating to sexuality and/or gender”.
He continued, “This is perhaps best described as ‘jellyfish legislation’” as the “concepts it uses are impossible to grasp; its limits are wholly undefined” and “it contains a sting in the tail in the form of criminal sanction of up to 7 years and unlimited fines”.
He concluded that there are very strong arguments that the plans are “beyond the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, primarily because of their over-breadth, their disproportionate intrusion into private and family life and freedom of religion and freedom of expression, but also because of their internal incoherence”.
Responding to Mr O’Neill’s advice, the Institute’s Simon Calvert said: “If this draconian and deeply flawed law is passed it will be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.
“Ordinary mums and dads face criminalisation for trying to extract their kids from the grip of radical trans ideology. Church leaders face prosecution for not praying in accordance with state dogmas. This is outrageous.
“They’ve spent over two years drafting this. It’s time to admit that no-one can define what conversion therapy is, let alone how to criminalise it.”
Polling in September revealed the Scottish public has little appetite for banning conversion therapy, with just five per cent of Scottish adults regarding the controversial legislation as a priority, ranking it least important of 16 possible options. It was also only a priority for five per cent of those who voted SNP at the last election.
In the House of Lords, Liberal Democrat Peer Baroness Burt of Solihull is seeking to impose unlimited fines for those deemed to offer “any practice” that assumes “any sexual orientation or gender identity is inherently preferable to another” and intends to “change” or “suppress” either.
In nearly 40 years in Parliament, I have never seen a more badly drafted or dangerous piece of legislation.
Numerous Peers spoke out strongly against her Bill during its Second Reading last week, including Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, who said that “in nearly 40 years in Parliament, I have never seen a more badly drafted or dangerous piece of legislation”.
Baroness Foster of Aghadrumsee expressed concern about the Bill’s “ambiguity”, saying: “Although it is short, its reach is extensive, and the implications for free speech, for freedom of religion, and for parenting are, I think, quite chilling.”
Biologist Lord Winston also spoke against the Bill, commenting that while he is pro-LGBT, there is still too much unknown about transgenderism to ban discussion of it.
Watch excerpts from some of the speeches.