LONDON (AP) — Scotland’s highest civil court on Friday upheld the British government’s move to block a landmark gender recognition law passed by the Scottish Parliament, underscoring the growing divide over local control of legislation in countries across the United Kingdom.
The ruling by the Court of Session in Edinburgh is a setback for Scotland’s semi-autonomous government, which overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow people aged 16 and over to change the gender designation on their identity documents through self-declaration, eliminating the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
The legislation distinguishes Scotland from the rest of the UK, where the minimum age is 18 and a medical diagnosis is required.
Britain’s central government blocked the legislation, for the first time invoking a section of the 25-year-old law that gave the Scottish Parliament control over most of its own affairs. Section 35 gives the UK authorities the power to prevent the implementation of measures that intervene in matters reserved to central government.
The decision highlights the tensions inherent in constitutional arrangements that hand authority over many areas of daily life to the “devolved” administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, while reserving control of national and English affairs to the British government in Westminster remains.
Frustration with the United Kingdom’s continued role in Scotland has fueled the country’s independence movement. The Scottish Parliament, based in the Holyrood district of Edinburgh, is controlled by the pro-independence Scottish National Party.
“Today’s ruling confirms beyond doubt that devolution is fundamentally flawed,” Scottish Prime Minister Humza Yousaf said in a post on X, formerly Twitter. “The court has confirmed that legislation passed by a majority at Holyrood can be rejected by Westminster.”
Yousaf said he would still respect the verdict.
The confrontation began earlier this year when Scottish lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the Gender Recognition Bill by a vote of 86 to 39.
But the British government prevented the bill from receiving royal assent – the final formality before a bill becomes law. Scottish Minister Alister Jack said at the time that he was concerned the bill would conflict with “Britain’s broad equality legislation”, which guarantees women and girls access to single-sex spaces such as changing rooms and accommodation.
Scottish officials questioned the central government’s actions, arguing that they interfered with Scotland’s right to govern itself.
The Sessions Court disagreed.
“Section 35 does not in itself affect the separation of powers or other fundamental constitutional principles,” Justice Shona Haldane said in her ruling. “Rather, it is itself part of the constitutional framework.”
Regardless of the constitutional issues, the decision disappointed trans rights activists who support self-identification for changes in gender identification.
“This unfortunately means more uncertainty for trans people in Scotland, who will now have to wait again to see whether their gender can be legally recognized through a process in line with leading countries such as Ireland, Canada and New Zealand,” the LGBTQ+ said Rights group Stonewall in a statement.
The Scottish government says the law change would have improved the lives of transgender people by making it easier for them to obtain official documents reflecting their gender identity.
Opponents say there is a risk of giving predatory men access to spaces intended for women, such as shelters for survivors of domestic violence. Others argue that the minimum age for transition should remain at 18.
Source : apnews.com