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

What a difference a day makes …

Photo by Jim Wilson on Unsplash

Only yesterday, I was discussing provisions of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill which would have led to the suspension of trial by jury for indictable offences in Scotland.

It seems that the Scottish Government has had second thoughts about this issue and has decided not to proceed with these proposals – although Humza Yousaf MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Justice has said that the Government will revisit the matter sometime in the next month.

This is the essential problem with emergency legislation – the unexpected consequences which arise in such situations due to the fact that there is a lack of effective oversight or supervision.

Were the Government’s proposals a sinister attempt to undermine trial by jury or were they simply a necessary evil determined by social distancing requirements during the COVID-19 crisis?

Whatever reason you prefer, the Scottish Government has found itself at the centre of a backlash from the usual suspects – the Scottish Criminal Bar Association – and from its own supporters e.g. Joanna Cherry QC MP (see below):

This has led to a situation which no Government (irrespective of its political colours) likes to be in: having to make an embarrassing U-turn.

In normal times, of course, the Government would have circulated its proposals in a discussion paper well in advance of any draft legislation being published. In this way, various interested parties, such as the Faculty of Advocates and the Law Society of Scotland, could have made their views known and, for the Government, this allows a useful measurement of the temperature to be taken.

The Law Society of Scotland, which represents solicitors, bemoaned the lack of consultation by the Scottish Government (see below):

This is why emergency legislation should always contain a clause or a provision which allows it to be regularly reviewed by Parliament. In this way, very simple questions can be posed:

  • Is the law working properly?
  • Is it still necessary?

Please find below a link to the story about this development on the BBC website:

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-52111412

Related Blog articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/03/31/trial-without-jury/

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, 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

Making (period) poverty history?

Photo by The Female Company on Unsplash

On 23 April 2019, Monica Lennon, a Member of the Scottish Parliament for the Labour Party introduced the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill (a draft law). There is nothing particularly unusual about this. After all, it is the job of our parliamentarians to make laws on behalf of the people of Scotland.

The purpose of this Bill captured the imagination of many and gained quite a bit of media attention due to its objective: the eradication of one of the sources of poverty endured by many women on low incomes in Scotland. In short, Ms Lennon’s Bill would ensure that women were given free access to period products.

Although the Bill’s objective was universally praised, the Scottish Government expressed doubts about its financial sustainability – and Ms Lennon, after all, is an opposition and backbench member of Parliament. Politics is politics after all.

Now, after some time in the equivalent of the parliamentary doldrums, the Bill has been given a new lease of life having been approved (the main principles of the proposal in any case) by a majority of Ms Lennon’s Holyrood colleagues.

That is not to say that the Bill will be passed as it was originally introduced to Parliament last April. It is more than likely that it will be subject to intense scrutiny by parliamentary committee and a range of amendments will be proposed.

What the shape of any eventual law will look like is anyone’s guess at this stage, but all credit to Ms Lennon who has persisted in pushing forward this important issue and keeping it firmly in the spotlight.

This is nothing new: most Bills will be subject to amendments as they undergo the scrutiny of the legislature. This is part and parcel of parliamentary life; compromises will have to be made in order that a Bill can be placed on the statute books i.e. can move beyond a mere proposal to something more concrete and lasting – an Act of Parliament.

An info graphic showing the current progress of the Bill (now at Stage 2) can be seen below:

Links to articles on the BBC website about the Bill can be found below:

Period poverty: Are Scots going to get period products for free?

MSPs have given their initial backing to plans to tackle period poverty by making sanitary products available to all free of charge.

Period poverty: MSPs back plans for free sanitary products

MSPs back the general principles of Monica Lennon’s bill but warn changes must be made before it becomes law.

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2020/01/20/criminal-evidence-vulnerable-witnesses/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/11/29/from-8-to-12/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/04/smacking-banned/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/05/28/ban-smacking/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/04/more-bills/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/29/private-members-bills/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/13/stalkers-beware/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 26 February 2020

Civil partner? I do!

Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

As of today (31 December 2019), heterosexual couples in England and Wales will be able to enter civil partnerships as an alternative to marriage.

This change does not yet extend to Scotland: the Scottish Government has introduced its own Bill to introduce civil partnerships for heterosexual couples.

An info graphic showing the current progress of this Bill in the Scottish Parliament (Stage 1) can be seen below:

When the Labour Government of Prime Minister Tony Blair originally introduced civil partnerships across the UK (as a result of the Civil Partnerships Act 2004) such legal unions were open to gay and lesbian couples only.

It was the first time in the history of Scots and English family law that gay and lesbian couples were entitled to enter a legally recognised relationship.

Fast forward a decade or so and we now have same sex marriage in Scotland, England and Wales – but not yet Northern Ireland (although the clock may be ticking here on this issue). Admittedly, same sex couples can enter civil partnerships in Northern Ireland, but since the Republic of Ireland made same sex marriage legal in 2015, pressure has been mounting for change in the North.

The case which started the ball rolling was Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education [2016] EWHC 128 (Admin).

In Steinfeld and Keidan, an unmarried, heterosexual couple brought a claim for unlawful less favourable treatment against the UK Government on the basis that the law (contained in the Civil Partnership Act 2004) discriminated against them by forcing them to enter marriage as opposed to their preferred option of a civil partnership arrangement. The couple had strong “ideological objections” to marriage (irrespective of whether it took a religious or civil form) and argued, amongst other things, that the failure by the United Kingdom to give them the option of entering a civil partnership was a potential breach of their Article 8 rights (the right to privacy and family life) in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ban on civil partnerships for heterosexual couples was also a potential breach of the Equality Act 2010 in the sense that it represented direct discrimination on grounds of a person’s sexual orientation. 

Initially, the English High Court rejected the challenge brought by Steinfeld and Keidan, whereupon the case was allowed to proceed to the English Court of Appeal. Although expressing sympathy for Steinfeld and Keidan’s predicament, the Lord Justices of Appeal refused to overturn the ban (see Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education [2017] EWCA Civ 81).

The couple were then given leave to appeal to the UK Supreme Court.

On 27 June 2018, the Supreme Court issued its decision: R (on the application of Steinfeld and Keidan) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for International Development (in substitution for the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary) [2018] UKSC 32.

Lord Kerr gave the leading judgement (with which his fellow Justices concurred) and allowed Steinfeld and Keidan’s appeal:

I would allow the appeal and make a declaration that sections 1 and 3 of CPA [Civil Partnership Act 2004] (to the extent that they preclude a different sex couple from entering into a civil partnership) are incompatible with article 14 of ECHR taken in conjunction with article 8 of the Convention.

Following the Supreme Court’s decision, the UK Government of former Prime Minister Theresa May initiated steps to amend the Civil Partnership Act 2004 in respect of the law for England and Wales.

A link to an article about the change to the law in England and Wales on the Sky News website can be found below:

Civil partnerships: First mixed-sex couples celebrate union http://news.sky.com/story/civil-partnerships-first-mixed-sex-couples-celebrate-union-11898759

Related Blog Articles:

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/10/04/a-very-civil-partnership/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/20/love-and-marriage/

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/02/08/the-gay-cake-row/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 31 December 2019

A pile of mince or a dog’s dinner?

Photo by Ryan Christodoulou on Unsplash

The Scottish Parliament has been making laws for the people of Scotland for two decades now and quite an impressive output of legislation it is too.

Recently, however, I found myself asking the questions: how frequently and to what effect does the Scottish Parliament review its legislative work. I suppose the question that I’m really asking is whether our elected representatives give serious thought to the efficacy of the laws that they have passed in our name?

In political science, the mismatch between legislative intent and the effectiveness of laws or policies is often referred to as the implementation gap i.e. where the political rhetoric and reality fail to meet.

Two stories caught my eye these last 18 months or so. The first involved the repeal of the (much maligned) Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications etc (Scotland) Act 2012. This law was passed with the intention of combating bigotry and sectarianism which is/was often expressed through the medium of football e.g. Glasgow Rangers v Glasgow Celtic; Heart of Midlothian v Hibernian; and Dundee v Dundee United.

The intention behind the legislation may very well have been a noble one, but it proved almost unworkable in practice. In 2013, Sheriff Richard Davidson (sitting at Dundee Sheriff Court) called the legislation “mince” (for our readers outside Scotland, this isn’t a legal term but rather one of derision). Unsurprisingly, the accused, one Dion McLeish was acquitted of all charges. Following Sheriff Davidson’s caustic remark, it really was all the way downhill for the Act. It was only a matter of time before the law was repealed (it was on on 19 April 2018 by a temporary coalition of Conservative, Greens, Labour and Liberal Democrat Members of Parliament). Much to the chagrin of the minority Scottish National Party led Government, the writing really was on the wall for this particular piece of legislation.

The Scottish Nationalists had always been accused of the worst type of virtue signalling by the opposition parties at Holyrood i.e. the practice of making superficial or grand gestures which are totally lacking in substance.

Does Scotland have a problem with bigotry and sectarianism? Almost certainly; but how do you tackle it effectively? That is the $64,000 question.

The second story involved the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010. This Act was introduced to promote greater responsibility for the control of dogs which could pose a danger to the public. Was this piece of legislation working effectively? Unfortunately not concluded the Scottish Parliament’s post legislative committee which stated there was still an “unacceptably high prevalence of dog attacks”.

Again, how do you address the issue effectively and ensure public safety? Good question and one which I’m only too happy to leave the politicians to sort out.

Links to the story about the criticism of the Control of Dogs (Scotland) Act 2010 can be found on the BBC website can be found below:

Dangerous dogs law ‘not fit for purpose’, say MSPs

New laws were introduced in 2010 but attacks by dogs are still “unacceptably high”, MSPs hear.

My son was scarred for life by dangerous dog

A mother from Bishopton has spoken out as MSPs hear attacks by dogs are still “unacceptably high”.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 26 December 2019

Law or high politics?

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Both is the answer to the question posed by the above Blog title.

And to what does the question refer? The British General Election results of Thursday 12 December 2019.

But before I venture some thoughts about what last Thursday’s results might mean for IndyRef2, I’d like to go back to the UK General Election of 1992. It may be instructive to remember the words of Jim Sillars, a then prominent Scottish Nationalist politician and Westminster Parliamentarian:

We have not yet resolved the paradox of when Scotland votes for the Labour Party and England votes for the Tories [the Conservative Party].’

Returning to the events of the General Election just past, Sillars’ remarks can be easily updated to read what happens when Scotland votes for the Scottish Nationalist Party, but England votes for the Conservatives?

Like all good questions, there is no easy answer to it. Yes, Boris Johnson MP is now the Prime Minister of a Conservative Party majority UK Government. Brexit will now almost get done (excuse the poor English – not mine).

And yet, there may be trouble ahead.

As predicted, the UK Government has restated its opposition to Indyref2.

Yesterday, during Sophy Ridge’s Show on Sky News, Michael Gove MP, a senior UK Cabinet Minister, rejected the idea of a second independence referendum (please see the link below):

http://news.sky.com/story/michael-gove-absolutely-rules-out-second-scottish-independence-referendum-11887189

Nicola Sturgeon MSP, First Minister of Scotland quickly responded by stating that Scotland ‘cannot be imprisoned’ within the UK:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/election-2019-50801743/nicola-sturgeon-scotland-cannot-be-imprisoned-in-uk

So this is where law and high politics collide.

Firstly, what’s the legal position?

The last Referendum on the question of Scottish Independence (held on Thursday 18 September 2014) too place because the then UK Government and Parliament gave their consent. This constitutional arrangement became known as the Edinburgh (St Andrew’s) Agreement of 15 October 2012 and operated under the auspices of Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998.

Secondly, what’s the political position and where does the Scottish Government go from here?

This is about the political long game and the Scottish Government is attempting to shame the UK Government into giving it the right to hold a second referendum.

Scotland’s First Minister is pointing to her democratic mandate from the Scottish electorate after the SNP increased its share of Westminster parliamentary seats from 35 to 48. Any refusal on part the UK Government to approve another referendum can and will be portrayed as a deliberate denial of the Scottish people’s fundamental democratic rights.

I often have to remind my students that when we elect a Parliament, we are appointing legislators (law makers) – as well as politicians.

Mr Johnson is clearly political master of all he surveys …

… for now at least.

Both Governments are clearly playing to their respective constituencies and it will be interesting to see if a greater impetus for Scottish independence begins to build north of the border.

The next Scottish parliamentary elections in May 2021 will provide some idea of the strength (or weakness) of the pro-independence cause.

Currently, despite the SNP’s electoral successes last Thursday night, Nicola Sturgeon and her Government certainly have the weaker hand, but in a political poker game of high stakes (the survival or dissolution of the 300 year old union between Scotland and England), high politics may well yet overcome dry, legal arguments.

As the German statesman, Otto von Bismarck noted:

Politics is the art of the possible.’

The old statesman also remarked:

Politics is not a science, as the professors are apt to suppose. It is an art.’

Who will be the more artful politician: Nicola Sturgeon or Boris Johnson? Time will tell.

Related Blog articles:

A step closer? Indyref2?

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/06/02/a-step-closer-indyref2/

Bring it on! (or Indeyref2?)

https://seancrossansscotslaw.com/2019/04/26/bring-it-on-or-indyref2/

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 16 December 2019

A very civil partnership

Photo by Han-Hsing Tu on Unsplash

Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage to paraphrase the words of the old song from the 1950s …

… but not for much longer in Scotland if the Scottish Government has its way. A new Bill lodged by the Government this week will potentially revolutionise legal unions for heterosexual couples who want commitment but not, critically, in the form of marriage.

The Civil Partnerships Act 2004 was originally passed by the UK Government of Prime Minister Tony Blair in order to permit same sex couples to enter a legally binding relationship. At the time, the Blair Government stressed that this type of legal arrangement was not open to heterosexual couples and should not be regarded as “gay marriage”.

This legislation also extended the same employment benefits that married couples already enjoyed to same sex couples who entered a civil partnership. In relation to the field of employment rights, the Act applies to employment and pension benefits e.g. a concessionary travel scheme and civil partners of an employee will be entitled to take advantage of these if existing provisions permit a heterosexual partner or spouse of an employee to claim these benefits.

In Bull and Another v Preddy and Another [2013] UKSC 73, UK Supreme Court Justice, Baroness Hale made the following remarks about civil partnerships:

“Civil partnership is not called marriage but in almost every other respect it is indistinguishable from the status of marriage in United Kingdom law. It was introduced so that same sex couples could voluntarily assume towards one another the same legal responsibilities, and enjoy the same legal rights, as married couples assume and enjoy. It is more than a contract. Like marriage, it is a status, in which some of the terms are prescribed by law, and which has consequences for people other than the couple themselves and for the state.”

Fast forward a decade or so and we now have same sex marriage in Scotland, England and Wales – but not yet Northern Ireland (although the clock may be ticking here on this issue). Admittedly, same sex couples can enter civil partnerships in Northern Ireland, but since the Republic of Ireland made same sex marriage legal in 2015, pressure has been mounting for change in the North.

This means that same sex couples have the option of entering into marriage or civil partnership. This choice is still denied to heterosexual couples – until now, hence the introduction of the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill.

Traditional marriage between a man and woman has been criticised on a number of grounds:

• It’s seen as very patriarchal i.e. historically it unduly favours the male partner

• It has religious associations which are not in keeping with the fact that the UK is (in 2019) a much more secular society

• Some heterosexual couples are increasingly attracted to a more equitable and modern form of legal commitment i.e. civil partnership.

Despite these criticisms of traditional marriage, until recently neither the UK or Scottish Governments had shown a desire to extend civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. That is until very recently and a UK Supreme Court decision has now made reform of the institution of marriage and civil partnership essential on the basis of a human rights challenge.

The case which started the ball rolling was Steinfeld and Keidan v Secretary of State for Education [2016].

In Steinfeld and Keidan, an unmarried, heterosexual couple brought a claim for unlawful less favourable treatment against the UK Government on the basis that the law (contained in the Civil Partnership Act 2004) discriminated against them by forcing them to enter marriage as opposed to their preferred option of a civil partnership arrangement. The couple had strong “ideological objections” to marriage (irrespective of whether it took a religious or civil form) and argued, amongst other things, that the failure by the United Kingdom to give them the option of entering a civil partnership was a potential breach of their Article 8 rights (the right to privacy and family life) in terms of the European Convention on Human Rights. The ban on civil partnerships for heterosexual couples was also a potential breach of the Equality Act 2010 in the sense that it represented direct discrimination on grounds of a person’s sexual orientation.

Initially, the English High Court rejected the challenge brought by Steinfeld and Keidan, whereupon the case was allowed to proceed to the English Court of Appeal. Although expressing sympathy for Steinfeld and Keidan’s predicament, the Lord Justices of Appeal refused to overturn the ban.

The couple were then given leave to appeal to the UK Supreme Court.

On 27 June 2018, the Court issued its decision: R (on the application of Steinfeld and Keidan) (Appellants) v Secretary of State for International Development (in substitution for the Home Secretary and the Education Secretary) [2018] UKSC 32.

Lord Kerr gave the leading judgement (with which his fellow Justices concurred) and allowed Steinfeld and Keidan’s appeal:

I would allow the appeal and make a declaration that sections 1 and 3 of CPA [Civil Partnership Act 2004] (to the extent that they preclude a different sex couple from entering into a civil partnership) are incompatible with article 14 of ECHR taken in conjunction with article 8 of the Convention.

If, post Steinfeld and Keidan, the Scottish Government continued to allow civil partnership legislation to operate in its original form, there was a very real risk that the Scottish Ministers would be taken to court and challenged by heterosexual couples (using Steinfeld and Keidan [2018]) on human rights grounds.

The solution?

Letting the status quo prevail in Scotland was not an option because of the implications for human rights, so the Scottish Government announced a public consultation on civil partnerships in September 2018:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-45675690

This consultation closed on 21 December 2018 and presented two options:

  • Abolishing the option of future civil partnerships for all; or
  • Permitting heterosexual couples to have the option of marriage or civil partnership.

A link to the Scottish Government’s consultation paper can be found below:

https://consult.gov.scot/family-law/the-future-of-civil-partnership-in-scotland/

On the back of this consultation, the Scottish Government has now introduced the Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill in order to implement option 2.

As the Policy Memorandum accompanying this Bill clearly states:

In Scotland, couples can marry or enter into a civil partnership, or choose to cohabit. Same sex and mixed sex couples can marry, and same sex and mixed sex couples can decide to cohabit. Civil partnership is currently available only to same sex couples, but this Bill will extend the relationship to mixed sex couples.”

It is more than likely that this Bill will command significant support in the Scottish Parliament and will soon become law.

An info graphic showing the current progress of this Bill can be seen below:

A link to BBC Scotland’s website about the introduction of the Bill can be found below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-49889498

Postscript

The Equalities and Human Rights Committee of the Scottish Parliament is now seeking the views of the public about the future of civil partnerships and whether allowing heterosexual couples to enter into this type of legal arrangement is desirable.

Interested members of the public have until 31 January 2020 to submit their views to the Committee.

More information about the Committee’s work in this area can be found by accessing the press release at the link below:

https://www.parliament.scot/newsandmediacentre/113453.aspx

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 4 October & 9 November 2019

Doing time …?

Photo by Emiliano Bar on Unsplash

In a previous blog (“Commit the crime, do the time?” published on 4 March 2019), I examined the role of the Scottish Sentencing Council (established as a result of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010) in relation to the imposition of various sentences on convicted offenders. The Council took up its role from 2015 onwards.

On Monday 12 June 2019, the second most senior judge sitting in Scotland, Lady Dorrian, Lord Justice Clerk, announced that the Scottish Sentencing Council would conducting a public consultation in an attempt “to demystify” the factors by which a criminal court takes into consideration when imposing punishment on the offender.

The consultation exercise will tackle a perception which exists (rightly or wrongly) amongst the public that sentencing can be extremely inconsistent. It will address this problem by highlighting issues which are likely to be considered aggravating factors by a judge and thus lead to the imposition of a longer sentence. Aggravating factors would include whether the crime was premeditated or in situations where a weapon was used. Conversely, it is hoped that the exercise will pinpoint mitigating factors that a judge takes into account when a lighter sentence is passed e.g. genuine remorse shown on the part of the offender or any negative consequences that the offender’s children are likely to suffer.

Readers may wish to take part in the public consultation exercise and can so by clicking on the link below at the Sentencing Council’s website:

https://consultations.scottishsentencingcouncil.org.uk/ssc/the-sentencing-process/consultation/subpage.2019-05-29.0933048382/

In order to assist the public and other interested parties to complete the survey, the Council has provided a number of documents which can be accessed via the link below:

https://consultations.scottishsentencingcouncil.org.uk/ssc/the-sentencing-process/

The closing date for participation in this exercise is 6 September 2019.

A link to an article on the BBC website about the exercise can be found below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-48556439

The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee

This week, in a related matter, the Justice Committee at Holyrood (by 7 votes to 2) decided to support plans by the Scottish Government, which if carried, would extend the presumption against short prison sentences.

Currently, in Scotland, there is a presumption against the imposition of prison sentences of less than 6 months and the court will most likely impose an alternative punishment.

Interestingly, on 19 February 2019, Scottish Legal News reported that David Gauke MP, the UK Government’s Justice Minister, had stated that he would introduce legislation in England and Wales in order to follow current, Scottish criminal practice as regards sentencing i.e. a presumption against prison terms of less than 6 months:

https://www.scottishlegal.com/article/england-follows-scotland-s-lead-on-presumption-against-short-sentences

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 13 June 2019

Stalkers beware!

Photo by Jaanus Jagomägi on Unsplash

A few of my recent blogs have discussed the legislative process in the Scottish Parliament and several Bills that are already undergoing scrutiny and debate at Holyrood.

So, when quickly glancing at the Scottish Parliament’s website today, I was very interested to see a proposal for a Member’s Bill which wishes to toughen the law on stalking in Scotland.

The proposed measure (if given the green light) would take the form of a Stalking Protection (Scotland) Bill and it would have a simple rationale:

“… to increase protection for victims of stalking by giving police the power to apply for stalking protection orders on behalf of victims.”

Stalking was made a specific criminal offence as a result of Section 39 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, but Rona Mackay MSP, the proposer of the measure clearly believes that the current law needs to be tightened in order to give victims of stalking more protection.

As part of her rationale, Ms Mackay makes reference to England and Wales where the Stalking Protection Act 2019 has been introduced. This legislation gives the a Chief Constable of a Police area south of the border the power to apply to a Magistrates’ Court for a stalking prevention order. Clearly, she is of the view that Scotland should follow suit in order to protect victims of this type of crime more effectively.

A link to the English and Welsh legislation can be found below:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2019/9/enacted

In a YouTube video, Ms Mackay provides some background to her proposed Bill and invites members of the public to contribute to the consultation by submitting their views by 21 July 2019.

A link to the Consultation document can be found below:

Click to access 20190425_Final_Consultation_document.pdf

Perhaps this is an issue which you feel strongly about and would like to get involved in shaping a new law for Scotland?

You can do this by completing an online survey (link below):

https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/StalkingProtectionBill/

At the moment, there is no Bill – only Ms Mackay’s proposal for one and it remains to be seen whether she will be able to secure the necessary support to take the matter forward i.e. securing the support of 18 MSPs from at least half of the political parties or groups represented in the parliamentary bureau; and provided the Scottish Government does not itself intend to legislate upon the matter.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 13 June 2019