A voluntary union or Albatraz (Indyref2 derailed)?

This is a relatively short article about today’s major constitutional law story which relates to the future of the United Kingdom as a unitary state.

The U.K. Supreme Court has finally ruled that the Scottish Parliament does not have the legislative power to hold a referendum (either a legally binding one or a purely advisory one).

A link to the judgement can be found below:

https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/uksc-2022-0098.html

This clearly represents a significant set back for supporters of independence for Scotland and the casual observer may arrive at the lazy conclusion that the matter is decided for the foreseeable future.

I think this is somewhat premature. The judgement of the Supreme Court contains difficulties for the U.K. Parliament and the Government of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in the sense that the Union of the Scottish and English Parliaments in 1707 is clearly not one of a voluntary nature. This may represent something of a red rag to the bull for many Scots and give the SNP/Green Government in Edinburgh a rather large stick to beat whichever British Government happens to be in power over the next few years.

In any event, there are legal precedents for dissolution of the union of nations within the framework of the British and Irish State (as I have previously argued in The Long and Winding Irish Road).

It should not be forgotten that 26 Irish counties (now the sovereign state of the Republic of Ireland) are obviously no longer in union with the United Kingdom. In fact, the original Acts of Parliament which led to the Union of Great Britain and Ireland stated:

The First Article of the Act of Union (Ireland) 1801 (above)

This piece of legislation (and it’s Westminster counterpart) contained the (very) ambitious statement that Great Britain and Ireland were to be united for ever. Unfortunately, for the parliamentary draftsmen of both pieces of legislation, they could not possibly foresee that this permanent union would be seriously undermined by the Government of Ireland Act 1920. 119 years is self evidently not a union for ever.

It is also worth highlighting that the remaining six counties of the North of Ireland are still in part of the political framework of the United Kingdom, but this is by no means a racing certainty that this will continue. The rise of Sinn Fein as the largest political party in the Northern Ireland Assembly has raised huge question marks about the constitutional status of the six counties. I don’t think it’s a stretch of the imagination that the future of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland looks very uncertain.

Even the Soviet Union (the USSR) explicitly gave its constituent Republics the right to secede in its 1977 Constitution (a right which had existed in previous versions). This right, of course, was more apparent than real as long as the Cold War endured. With the fall of Communism in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the political space was created for the Soviet Republics to chart their own courses. Admittedly, this hasn’t always been plain sailing as the current war in Ukraine and other conflicts in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia amply demonstrate).

Interestingly, when the Brexit Referendum of 23 June 2016 produced a narrow majority in favour of the U.K. leaving the European Union, there was no clear constitutional process for a member state to secede, but yet on 1 January 2020, the U.K. became a former EU State.

This really leads me to the conclusion of this very short article: independence for Scotland is a political question rather than a legal question. The Supreme Court has answered a relatively easy question in the sense that the architecture of the Scotland Act 1998 does not currently permit the Scottish Parliament to hold a binding or non-binding referendum. As with the Irish Question over a century ago, permanent unions between countries or political units tend to be anything but.

One door closes and another opens …

The link to my previous article, The Long and Irish Winding Road can be found below:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2021/01/10/the-long-and-winding-irish-road/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 23 November 2022

Sex or gender?

Photo by Dainis Graveris on Unsplash

Sex or gender: which term do you prefer? Can they be used inter-changeably?

These questions have now come into sharp focus as a result of an amendment to the Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill.

Our understanding of the terms “sex” and “gender” may now have to evolve as a result of the debate surrounding aspects of the Bill, but before we discuss this Bill it’s worth looking at the current legal position surrounding gender recognition issues.

The Equality Act 2010

Section 11(1) of the Equality Act 2010 defines a person’s “sex” in the following terms:

In relation to the protected characteristic of sex — a reference to a person who has a particular protected characteristic is a reference to a man or to a woman

In other words, current UK equality law means that your sex is determined at birth when you will be categorised as ‘Male’ or ‘Female’ and this will be entered on your birth certificate. We, therefore, do not have a choice about our sex when we are born. It is a matter of biology.

What about a person’s gender? Section 7(1) of the Equality Act 2010 provides us with guidance on this matter:

A person has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment if the person is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of reassigning the person’s sex by changing physiological or other attributes of sex.

The Gender Recognition Act 2004

In April 2005, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 came into force. This Act, which received the Royal Assent on 1 July 2004, currently provides people who have undergone gender reassignment procedures with legal recognition in relation to their newly acquired gender identity. The legislation applies across the United Kingdom and was passed by the Westminster Parliament.

Legal recognition of a person’s decision to reassign the sex or gender they have had from birth will follow from the issuing of a full gender recognition certificate by a Gender Recognition Panel. The individual applying for such a certificate must be able to satisfy certain criteria – the most important criterion will centre around the submission of medical evidence of physiological changes by the applicant.

The Scottish Government was intending to reform the 2004 Act, but in the teeth of strong opposition within the Scottish National Party, such proposals have been dropped for the time being.

Self-identification

Under the Scottish Government’s proposals, an individual would have been permitted effectively to self-identify as a person of the opposite sex without having to undergo invasive medical procedures and provide the evidence of this fact in order to obtain recognition from the Panel.

This meant that an individual wishing to undergo gender reassignment in Scotland would have to have met the following criteria:

  • A statutory declaration to the effect that they have decided to change gender or sex;
  • The declaration will contain a statement that the individual has been living as a man or a woman for at a minimum of 3 months;
  • The individual will have to undertake a compulsory or mandatory period of 3 months to reflect on the decision to undergo gender reassignment (no gender recognition certificate will be issued until this period has been completed).

Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill

This Bill has proved to be another flashpoint in the often fierce debate over gender recognition.

The Bill, which passed Stage 3 in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday 10 December 2020, has reignited the debate about the terms “sex” and “gender” and their use in legislation.

The Bill passes Stage 3 in the Scottish Parliament

The purpose of the Bill is set out below:

“… to improve the experience, in relation to forensic medical services, of people who have been affected by sexual crime. It does this by providing a clear statutory duty for health boards to provide forensic medical examinations to victims and to ensure that an individual’s healthcare needs are addressed in a holistic way in the context of any such examination (or where such an examination is not proceeded with). As well as placing a duty on health boards to provide forensic medical examinations when a victim is referred for such an examination by the police, the Bill allows victims to “self-refer”. Self-referral means that a victim can request a forensic medical examination without having reported an incident to the police. The Bill provides a statutory framework for the retention by health boards of samples obtained during a forensic medical examination, which may support any future criminal investigation or prosecution. In self-referral cases, this allows the victim time to decide whether to make a police report.

A controversial amendment?

At first glance, no one could possibly object to the aims of the Bill, but Johann Lamont MSP, a former leader of the Scottish Labour Party, saw an opportunity to introduce an amendment to the Bill.

Such a development is not an unusual practice for parliamentarians to introduce amendments to Bills proceeding through Parliament. The introduction of amendments to Bills often permit reform to earlier pieces of legislation. In this case, the Lamont amendment was directed towards changing the wording of Section 9(2) of the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014.

As things currently stand, Section 9(2) of the 2014 Act states that:

Before a medical examination of the person in relation to the complaint is carried out by a registered medical practitioner in pursuance of section 31 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012, the constable must give the person an opportunity to request that any such medical examination be carried out by a registered medical practitioner of a gender specified by the person.

This could mean, under current law, that a victim of a sexual assault e.g. a biological or cis woman might have to undergo an examination by a medical professional who is a transgender female.

The Lamont amendment (which has now been accepted overwhelmingly by the Scottish Parliament) will ensure that the word “gender” will be replaced with the word “sex”.

Johann Lamont’s amendment will remove an anomaly in the law which currently permits a transgender person who is a medical professional to examine a victim of a sexual assault.

Further controversy

When one flashpoint is resolved, another disagreement about sex and gender is never far away in Scotland.

An organisation called forwomen.scot is raising a legal action in the Court of Session in Edinburgh for the express purpose of challenging the Scottish Government’s attempt to redefine the word ‘woman’ (see below):

“… We are challenging the Scottish Ministers over the redefinition of “woman” in the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018 which we believe is outside the legislative competency of the Scottish Parliament under the Scotland Act 1998 and in contravention of the Scottish Ministers’ duties under equality legislation… The new definition includes some men, while, remarkably, excluding some women. This cannot be allowed to stand… The Equality Act 2010 states that a woman is “a female of any age” and maintaining this definition is key to maintaining women’s rights and protections in law…”

forwomen.scot describes rationale on its website in the following terms:

– sex is immutable and is a protected characteristic;
– women are entitled to privacy, dignity, safety and fairness;
– women’s rights should be strengthened.

https://forwomen.scot

All quiet on the Western Front? Hardly … expect this issue to run and run.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 4 February 2021

Gender recognition reform postponed

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

The Coronavirus continues to create chaos – legally speaking.

The latest casualty is the Scottish Government’s promised review of the Gender Recognition Act 2004. This exercise will now be postponed for the foreseeable future.

On 20 June 2019, the Scottish Government stated that, following a consultation in 2018, it would be bringing forward a Gender Recognition Bill in order to reform the current Gender Recognition Act 2004.

This exercise was always dogged by a lack of clarity on the Government’s part. Shirley-Anne Sommerville MSP, the Government Minister who had responsibility for this issue had publicly admitted that there was still a need to build a “maximum consensus” before things become clearer. Code for sorting out divisions over the issue within the ranks of the Scottish National Party.

A link to information about the proposed Bill can be found below:

https://www.gov.scot/publications/review-of-gender-recognition-act-2004/

The Gender Recognition Act 2004

In April 2005, the Gender Recognition Act 2004 came into force. This Act, which received the Royal Assent on 1 July 2004, currently provides people who have undergone gender reassignment procedures with legal recognition in relation to their newly acquired gender identity. The legislation applies across the United Kingdom and was passed by the Westminster Parliament.

Legal recognition of a person’s decision to reassign the sex or gender they have had from birth will follow from the issuing of a full gender recognition certificate by a Gender Recognition Panel. The individual applying for such a certificate must be able to satisfy certain criteria – the most important criterion will centre around the submission of medical evidence of physiological changes by the applicant.

Since the introduction of the Act, it has long been the case, therefore, that it will amount be unlawful discrimination to treat a person less favourably because s/he has undergone a a process of gender reassignment. The Equality Act 2010, of course, also bolsters legal protection for transgender people.

The Scottish Government’s proposed Gender Recognition Bill

The proposed Bill was controversial because some Scottish National Party MSPs and MPs (e.g. Joanna Cherry QC, Ash Denham, Kate Forbes and Lindsay Martin) are concerned about its main objective: that an individual who wishes to undergo gender reassignment will no longer have to provide medical evidence to the Gender Recognition Panel. The Panel currently determines the gender or sex of individuals who wish to undergo reassignment by issuing them with a certificate:

https://www.scottishlegal.com/article/joanna-cherry-qc-signs-letter-opposing-rush-to-reform-gender-law

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-48037152

Under the Scottish Government’s proposals, an individual could effectively self-identify as a person of the opposite sex without having to undergo invasive medical procedures and provide the evidence of this fact in order to obtain recognition from the Panel.

Under the proposed legislation, an individual wishing to undergo gender reassignment would have to have met the following criteria:

  • A statutory declaration to the effect that they have decided to change gender or sex;
  • The declaration will contain a statement that the individual has been living as a man or a woman for at a minimum of 3 months;
  • The individual will have to undertake a compulsory or mandatory period of 3 months to reflect on the decision to undergo gender reassignment (no gender recognition certificate will be issued until this period has been completed).

Two academics at the University of Edinburgh, Dr Kath Murray and Lucy Hunter Blackburn have also been extremely critical about the Scottish Government’s approach to transgender rights generally.

A link to an article in The Holyrood Magazine discussing the research conducted by the two academics can be found below:

https://www.holyrood.com/articles/news/scottish-trans-policy-detrimental-women-and-girls

For the time being all of the above is going to be purely academic.

Related Blog articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/07/17/whos-the-daddy/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/09/26/im-not-your-daddy/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/25/gender-neutral/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/18/safe-spaces/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/12/21/say-what-you-want/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/16/say-what-you-want-continued/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 1 April 2020

Trial without jury?

Screen capture by Seán J Crossan

I seem to be on a theme today due to COVID-19.

The latest legal development is the Scottish Government’s attempt to deal with the crisis by passing an emergency Bill through the Scottish Parliament in one day. The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill undoubtedly contains welcome measures e.g. protection for tenants against eviction by their landlords throughout the duration of the crisis.

The relevant provisions of the Bill are contained in Section 11(1) and (4) respectively and are as follows:

“The Scottish Ministers may by regulations provide that trials on indictment are to be conducted by the court sitting without a jury.”

This would, in effect, create a situation where a Sheriff or a Lord Commissioner of Justiciary in a solemn trial was both Master of the Law and Master of fact.

Not everyone is welcoming the Bill in its entirety: the Scottish Criminal Bar Association has been extremely critical of proposals which would, in particular, permit the temporary abolition of trial by jury (solemn trials).

Prominent members of the Scottish National Party, such as Joanna Cherry QC MP, have stated their extremely strong opposition to the proposals (see Tweet below):

Ronnie Renucci QC, Chair of the Scottish Criminal Bar Association, issued the following statement attacking the Bill’s provisions in relation to jury trials:

The proposals in this bill include attacks on principles that have been built over 600 years and are at the very cornerstone of Scotland’s criminal justice system and democratic tradition. … Any changes, however temporary, should not erode important principles of our legal system which would have the effect of undermining or ignoring the citizen’s rights to justice. They should not at a stroke remove the fundamental principle of the right of those citizens charged with serious offences to a trial by a jury of their peers within a reasonable time. … The SCBA believes that these draconian measures seeking to bring about seismic changes to our system of justice are premature, disproportionate and ill-advised. They are at best a knee-jerk reaction to an as yet unquantified problem instigated by panic or at worst, something far more sinister.”

As Mr Renucci also points out in his statement, juries have been in existence in Scotland since the reign of King Alexander II (1214-49). Even during the Second World War, the practice of trial by jury continued – albeit restricted to 7 jurors as opposed to the usual number of 15.

I should, of course, point out that the vast majority of criminal trials (95%) in Scotland are conducted in the lower criminal courts – the Justice of the Peace and Sheriff Courts – under summary procedure. In England and Wales, the figures are similar. Yet, the emotional attachment to the right of trial by jury remains very strong in both jurisdictions.

We should not, however, ignore or downplay the value of solemn trials in that they permit someone who is accused of serious criminal offences (e.g. former Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond) to be tried by a jury of his/her peers. A

There are unhappy precedents for restricting the right to trial by jury.

In Northern Ireland, during the period known euphemistically as ‘The Troubles‘, the Diplock Courts were established under the provisions of the Northern Ireland Act 1973. This legislation abolished the right to trial by jury for terrorism related offences. The rationale behind this development was to curb juror intimidation by paramilitary organisations such as the Provisional IRA and the Ulster Defence Association. These courts, where one judge presided, were highly controversial. They were only abolished comparatively recently as a result of the introduction of the Justice and Security (Northern Ireland) Act 2007.

During the first and second terms of the Blair Government (1997-2001 and 2001-2005 respectively), attempts were made to curtail the right to trial by jury in England and Wales. This would have applied to offences triable either way i.e. they could be tried under summary procedure or on indictment. In such situations, it is the choice of the accused (the defendant) to decide which sort of trial they should face – trial by magistrates or trial by jury. The Blair Government’s proposals were not welcomed and eventually sank beneath the waves of protest from a number of Mr Blair’s own MPs, members of the House of Lords, the Law Society and the Bar Council (to name but a few opponents).

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2000/jan/21/jurytrials.law2

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/labour-rebels-to-ambush-blair-over-trial-by-jury-105088.html

Conclusion

Some 20 years ago, when Prime Minister Blair’s Government proposed restrictions on the right to trial by jury, the words of Lord Devlin, a former Law Lord, were often quoted. Lord Devlin’s remarks are worth repeating in the current context:

“…trial by jury is more than an instrument of Justice and more than one wheel of the constitution: it is the lamp that shows that freedom lives.”

Related Blog articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/03/23/tholing-his-assize-alex-salmond-former-scottish-first-minister-acquitted-of-13-charges-of-sexual-offences-some-reflections-on-criminal-prosecutions-in-scotland-the-burden-of-proof-required-to-secu

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/02/15/oh-brother/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/05/02/consent/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/25/the-jury/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/03/15/kaboom/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 31 March 2020