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Scottish government to take Westminster to court over stalled gender reforms

Scottish government to take Westminster to court over stalled gender reforms

It marks the first battle with Westminster for new SNP leader Humza Yousaf.
The Scottish and U.K. governments are heading back to court under Scotland’s new leader Humza Yousaf.

Yousaf’s Scottish National Party-led administration announced Wednesday that it will take legal action against the Westminster government’s decision to block SNP reforms aimed at making it easier for people to legally change gender.

After the Scottish parliament passed the contentious legislation — championed by former first minister Nicola Sturgeon — the U.K. government used an instrument granted by the devolution settlement for Scotland to effectively thwart the reforms.

Using a so-called Section 35 order, the U.K. government’s Scotland Secretary Alister Jack argued that the law could have “an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation.” The reforms were also strongly opposed by parts of the SNP and some senior lawmakers, who were concerned about the potential impact on single-sex spaces.

But Yousaf’s Scottish government argues Westminster failed to justify its decision to block the changes, which were passed with cross-party support in the Holyrood Scottish parliament.

SNP ministers have also said Westminster offered no guidance on how the legislation could be altered to avoid clashing with U.K.-wide equalities law.

“The U.K. 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,” Scottish Social Justice Secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said Wednesday.

“Our offers to work with the U.K. government on potential changes to the bill have been refused outright,” she added, arguing legal challenge is now the Scottish government’s “only reasonable” option.

The U.K. government disagrees, believing that a 13 page ‘statement of reasons‘ published in January adequately sets out its case for making the Section 35 order.

“The U.K. government will robustly defend the decision to prevent the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill from becoming law,” Jack said Wednesday.

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