Scottish court rules UK government veto of Holyrood gender reform bill was lawful

Constitutional ruling disappoints LGBTQ+ campaigners but offers a boost to Rishi Sunak

Trans rights protesters
The decision to veto the legislation in January caused widespread protests
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A judge in Scotland has declared that the UK government acted lawfully in blocking Holyrood's gender recognition reform bill.

Legislation introducing a self-identification system to allow people to change their legally recognised sex was passed by the Scottish Parliament late last year.

But in January Scottish Secretary Alister Jack used section 35 powers from the Scotland Act 1998 – the legislation that established the Scottish Parliament – for the first time to stop the bill receiving royal assent, over fears it would impact on UK-wide equalities laws.

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Now in a ruling that The Guardian said will "disappoint LGBTQ+ campaigners and offers a boost to Rishi Sunak at the end of a difficult week", Lady Haldane at the Court of Session in Edinburgh rejected the Scottish government’s petition to rule the UK government’s section 35 veto as unlawful.

While the challenge to the veto failed, Haldane said that "in so concluding it is important to recognise the novelty and complexity of the arguments and the sophisticated manner in which those arguments were presented before me and from which I derived considerable assistance".

Jack welcomed the decision. "I was clear that this legislation would have had adverse effects on the operation of the law as it applies to reserved matters, including on important Great Britain-wide equality protections," he said.

But Colin Macfarlane, director of nations at LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall, said the organisation was "disappointed" with the ruling. "This unfortunately means more uncertainty for trans people in Scotland, who will now be waiting once again, to see whether they will be able to have their gender legally recognised through a process that is in line with leading nations like Ireland, Canada and New Zealand."

The Scottish government "has the right to appeal the case further through the Scottish courts, and ultimately to the Supreme Court in London", said Sky News.

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