Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
by Louise Wilson
20 December 2023
Scottish ministers will not appeal block on gender reform bill

Scottish ministers will not appeal block on gender reform bill

The Scottish Government will not appeal the court decision which upheld the UK Government’s block on proposed gender reforms, Shirley-Anne Somerville has confirmed.

But the social justice secretary also said the bill will not be withdrawn in the hope the two governments can work together to find a solution.

While she said its progress seemed “impossible” with the current UK Government, Somerville said Scottish ministers would look to work with a future government.

The announcement on the appeal has been welcomed by Scottish secretary Alister Jack, who also confirmed the UK Government will be seeking expenses from the legal battle.

In a statement to parliament, Somerville said the proposals within the Gender Recognition Reform Bill – namely allowing people to obtain a gender recognition certificate through self-identification – “remain the government’s policy”.

Accepting the bill cannot proceed to royal assent due to the section 35, she added: “We will not be withdrawing it.”

She continued: “If the current UK government is willing to work together on this, we will happily sit down with them.

“If a future UK government are willing, we will do so with them so that the section 35 could be lifted and the bill progresses.”

The Scottish secretary, who laid the section 35 order just weeks after the Scottish Parliament passed the bill, said: “I welcome the Scottish Government’s acceptance of the court’s judgment, which upheld my decision to prevent their gender recognition legislation from becoming law.

 “The Scottish Government chose to pursue this litigation in spite of the cost to the taxpayer. These resources would have been better spent addressing the priorities of people in Scotland – such as growing the economy, cutting NHS waiting lists and improving our children’s education.

 “The UK Government now intends to lodge an application with the court seeking our expenses in defending this matter.”

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said she was “delighted” that the “hard-fought” campaign by some women’s groups had been successful.

She added: “We warned all along that this would happen but the SNP government wouldn’t listen. Instead, they’ve spent time and taxpayers’ money on a doomed legal battle to revive laws which the majority of the Scottish public do not want – laws which undermine the rights and safety of women, girls and vulnerable young people.”

Gallacher also suggested it left the SNP’s agreement with the Scottish Greens “in tatters”.

A general election will be held next year, after which it is expected Labour will take office. The majority of Labour MSPs backed the passage of the bill last year, though Keir Starmer has expressed reservations about the principle of self-ID.

Responding to the statement on behalf of his party, MSP Paul O’Kane said: “The bill will remain in limbo after the smoke from the court wrangling between the two governments clears. I also heard what the cabinet secretary said about the willingness to try and work together.”

Green MSP Maggie Chapman said many trans people will be feeling “hurt and vulnerable” by the decision. Her party had urged the government to “consider all options for appeal” following the Court of Session’s judgement earlier this month.

Chapman said ministers must provide assurance to trans people to provide “some hope, some clear demonstration that they matter and that we value them”.

The cabinet secretary said her government remained committed to “supporting and empowering” the LGBT community, including via the forthcoming non-binary action plan, a bill to end conversion practices, and improvements to trans healthcare.

Somerville was making a reduced statement to parliament after details were leaked to the media yesterday.

Deputy First Minister Shona Robison, who confirmed to the BBC’s The Nine programme yesterday that the government would not be appeal the decision, has written to the presiding officer to apologise.

The Gender Recognition Reform Bill was passed by MSPs last December by 86 votes to 39.

However, that vote followed a fraught debate over possible unintended consequences of the bill, notably the impact on women of allowing people to legally change their gender through a system of self-identification.

Self-ID was proposed in a bid to make it easier for trans people to obtain a gender recognition certificate.

Charity Scottish Trans said it was “bitterly disappointed” the government would not be appealing the court decision.

A statement added: “For now, we’re stuck with the intrusive, distressing and difficult process that so many of us have worked so hard over so many years to improve, and that our parliament voted for by a large majority at the end of last year.

“It is important to remember two things. Firstly, the court did not rule that there was anything wrong with the GRR Bill itself, only that the UK Government has the power to choose to block it.

“Secondly, the bill is not dead – it will remain stalled for now, but can be reactivated later when the political situation changes.”

Joanna Cherry, an SNP MP who had vocally opposed the passage of the bill, welcomed the move. She tweeted: “It’s the right decision in the round. All that remains now is for a long overdue apology from MSPs from all parties who rubbished the legitimate concerns of lifelong feminists & LGB activists.”

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by Louise Wilson - SNP attacks Keir Starmer for suspending MPs over two-child cap at first PMQs.

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top