Top KC says Lib Dem ‘conversion therapy’ Bill threatens fundamental freedoms

A Private Member’s Bill on ‘conversion therapy’ poses a threat to “fundamental” freedoms, a top human rights lawyer has warned.

In a legal opinion for The Christian Institute, Jason Coppel KC said Baroness Burt of Solihull’s Bill is likely to cut across key parental, religious, and free speech rights.

The Liberal Democrat Peer’s proposal seeks 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.

‘Notably broad’

Coppel notes in his 19-page opinion that the “Bill is notably broad in scope” and would consequently “apply across the whole range of life; including in religious settings, social settings, and in the home”, even where “the person in question consents”.

If enacted, the human rights expert states, Lady Burt’s Bill would “interfere with a number of rights protected” by the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

By way of example, he explains, it would restrict “the ability of religious organisations to express their beliefs” and “the ability of parents to counsel and bring up children in the way they believe to be right”.

‘Unjustified interference’

Coppel continues: “It is very difficult to see how the wide-ranging interference with fundamental rights contemplated by the Bill could be justified.

“Put shortly, the Bill criminalises expressions of personal conviction even if they are made without expressions of hatred or intolerance, or improper purpose or coercion, or abuse of power.

“Such an approach runs contrary to the consistent case law of the European Court of Human Rights”.

Ideologically driven

The Institute has been raising concerns about “ideological and restrictive” legislation in this area since it was first proposed under former Prime Minister Theresa May.

Deputy Director for Public Affairs Simon Calvert recently explained: “All the abusive practices you would expect to be banned are banned. What activists want is not a law against abuse, it is a law against disagreeing with Stonewall orthodoxy in your conversations with gay or trans people.”

In a statement the Liberal Democrats claimed the Bill has been written to “robustly differentiate” between “religious advice and conversion therapy”.

In response, the Institute pointed out that “its vague wording contains no protections for the ordinary work of churches, and any advice based on biblical sexual ethics would appear to fall foul of the proposals”.

Legal action

In May 2021, The Christian Institute threatened the Government with legal action if its proposed conversion therapy law banned the ‘wrong kind of prayer’.

In his detailed legal opinion at that time, Mr Coppel confirmed that activists’ proposed definitions of the law would criminalise the ordinary work of churches.

He warned that prayer, evangelism, church membership, baptism and communion could all breach a broad conversion therapy law like the one passed in Victoria, Australia

This week Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle presented his own Private Member’s Bill on ‘conversion therapy’ in the House of Commons. The wording of the Bill is not yet available.

Humanists UK

Earlier this week, Humanists UK – a group that has long campaigned for new ‘conversion therapy’ legislation – announced the appointment of Lady Burt as one of its patrons.

The anti-faith group, in its response to the Government’s consultation on a new law, said other practices such as confession, fasting, declarations of faith and “attendance on religious courses” could also cause “direct harm” to LGBT people and should be forbidden.

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