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:
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:
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:
For the time being all of the above is going to be purely academic.
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Copyright Seán J Crossan, 1 April 2020