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by Louise Wilson
09 April 2023
First Minister hints legal challenge to gender reform block to go ahead

The UK Government decision sparked some protest, though others welcomed the move | Alamy

First Minister hints legal challenge to gender reform block to go ahead

Humza Yousaf has signalled his intention to mount a legal challenge against the UK Government’s block on the Gender Recognition Reform Bill.

The bill, which was passed in Holyrood last December, was not sent for Royal Assent after Scottish secretary Alister Jack raised concerns about its impact on the UK Equality Act, a reserved piece of legislation.

Under the Scotland Act, the Scottish secretary is entitled to block any legislation which he believes “would have an adverse effect on the operation of the law as it applies to reserved matters” via a Section 35 order.

The First Minister committed to challenging that block throughout the recent SNP leadership contest.

The deadline to challenge the order is Monday 17 April.

Speaking to journalists, Yousaf said: “I made it abundantly clear throughout the course of the leadership contest that my starting principle is to challenge the Westminster veto over the GRR Bill.

“You can imagine, of course, I’ve been having intense conversations in that regard and I will be making an announcement on the potential challenge of the section 35 order imminently, given that deadline.”

Pressed on whether that meant his government would be mounting a legal challenge, he said: “It means I’ll be making an announcement on it pretty imminently, given that deadline.”

The legislation seeks to make it easier for trans people to change their legal sex by introducing a system of self-identification for obtaining a gender recognition certificate.

MSPs backed the bill by a margin of 86 votes to 39, though the SNP suffered its biggest rebellion ever as nine members voted against it.

Concerns have been raised about the impact the change would have on access to same-sex spaces, sports and equal pay.

Giving his reasons, in January, for the section 35 order, Jack told the UK parliament: “This is not about preventing the Scottish Parliament from legislating on devolved matters but about ensuring that we do not have legal frameworks in one part of the UK which have adverse effects on reserved matters… In the instance of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, I have concluded that the bill would have serious, adverse effects on the operation of the Equality Act 2010.”

Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon described the block as a “profound mistake” and warned it would "inevitably end up in court.”

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