Scotland to take legal action against UK over blockage of gender reform bill

Newly-elected Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf said that challenging the veto "is necessary in order to defend the will" of the nation's parliament.

Transgender flag flying in Scotland, UK.
Image: Shutterstock: Scotpic

Scotland has announced that it will take legal action against the UK government over its blockage of the nation’s Gender Recognition Reform bill. Scottish Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville confirmed the news on Wednesday, April 12, just under three months after the veto.

The politician stated: “The Gender Recognition Reform Bill was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Scottish Parliament, with support from members of all parties. The use of Section 35 is an unprecedented challenge to the Scottish Parliament’s ability to legislate on clearly devolved matters and it risks setting a dangerous constitutional precedent.

“In seeking to uphold the democratic will of the parliament and defend devolution, Scottish ministers will lodge a petition for a judicial review of the Secretary of State for Scotland’s decision.”

Somerville added: “The UK government gave no advance warning of their use of the power, and neither did they ask for any amendments to the bill throughout its nine-month passage through parliament.

“Our offers to work with the UK government on potential changes to the bill have been refused outright by the secretary of state, so legal challenge is our only reasonable means of resolving this situation.

“It is important to have clarity on the interpretation and scope of the Section 35 power and its impact on devolution. These matters should be legally tested in the courts.”


The UK government responded, saying it would “robustly defend” its decision.

The Gender Recognition Reform bill was passed by Scottish Parliament in December 2022, with 86 votes in favour and 39 against. It allows trans people in the country aged 16 and over to have their preferred gender recognised in legal documents through a self-declaration process without the need to provide a medical diagnosis or other evidence.

Claiming that its enactment could have an impact on broader UK equality legislation, Westminster announced on January 16 that it would be stopping the bill from becoming law by triggering Section 35 of the 1998 Scotland Act for the first time in history. While former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon vowed to fight the move in court, her unprecedented resignation in February 2023 meant that it would be up to the SNP’s next leader to take action. 

The baton was ultimately passed to Humza Yousaf, who was elected as Sturgeon’s replacement on March 27. An outspoken LGBTQ+ ally, throughout his campaign, he promised to challenge Westminster’s veto as his predecessor had planned to do. 

Following the announcement that Scotland will be taking legal action against the blockage of the Gender Recognition Reform bill, the new First Minister tweeted: “Our decision to challenge UK Govt’s Section 35 Order is necessary in order to defend the will of the Scottish Parliament. We asked UK Govt to engage & suggest any amendments to the Bill – they refused.

“We cannot allow legislation passed by a majority to be vetoed in this way.”


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