Rishi Sunak, the British Prime Minister, stated on Friday it was “completely reasonable” for the UK government to scrutinize and potentially block a transgender bill passed in Scotland.
The Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) bill, passed on Thursday, reduces the minimum age in Scotland for legally changing one’s gender from 18 to 16. Additionally, the bill removed the previous requirement of evidence of some gender dysmorphia from a medical professional. In doing so, the Scottish bill serves to repeal and amend much of the Gender Recognition Act 2004′. However, Sunak and others have expressed concerns about the legislation, with specific regard to “women and children’s safety.”
The British Prime Minister stated there was a possibility of the UK government blocking the bill completely. Under the Scotland Act, the Scottish Parliament has the power to legislate on devolved matters, which includes issues concerning gender recognition. However, reserved matters which include equality legislation, can only be legislated upon by the UK Parliament. As such, where Scottish legislation interferes with equality legislation, there may be grounds for the UK government to block such an act; there may be grounds for blocking the act under section 35 of the Scotland Act. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, is exploring such a route:
“We share the concerns that many people have regarding certain aspects of this bill, and in particular the safety issues for women and children. We will look closely at that, and also the ramifications for the 2010 Equality Act and other UK wide legislation, in the coming weeks – up to and including a section 35 order stopping the bill going for royal assent if necessary.”
The UK government could block the act despite it having passed through the Scottish Parliament by a landslide, with support of nearly 70 percent of the Scottish parliamentarians. Member of the Scottish Parliament, Maggie Chapman, responded to Sunak and the UK government by stating “[a]ny attempt to block this Bill would be an attack on devolution and democracy and on the rights of trans people.” However, if Sunak and his government do go ahead, there will likely be a legal battle as to whether the Scottish Parliament can pass such legislation.