Campaigners win judicial review over Scottish definition of 'woman'

Campaigners have won the right to a judicial review over the definition of a woman in Scottish Government legislation aimed at improving representation on public boards.

Friday, 16th October 2020, 4:55 pm
Updated Friday, 16th October 2020, 6:11 pm
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish Parliament Holyrood Edinburgh outlines new restrictions designed to limit the spread of coronavirus in Scotland. Picture: Fraser Bremner
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the Scottish Parliament Holyrood Edinburgh outlines new restrictions designed to limit the spread of coronavirus in Scotland. Picture: Fraser Bremner

The For Women Scotland (FWS) organisation claims the definition in the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act 2018 is outside the legislative competency of the Scottish Parliament and contravenes equality legislation.

They fear the Act has been used to bring in legal “self-identification of sex” by the back door.

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The Court of Session granted permission for the judicial review to proceed and a substantive hearing is now scheduled for January..

A spokeswoman for FWS said: "It should not be possible for Scottish Government to redefine Protected Characteristics in discrete legislation nor undermine UK Equality law.

"Governments at Westminster and Holyrood have, shamefully, ignored UK law and left ordinary women with the task of defending our legal rights at personal and financial cost.

"We object to the wholesale redefinition of women, which was done at the request of a lobby group, and without public consultation or Parliamentary scrutiny."

The Equality Act 2010 states "sex" is a reference to a man or a woman, and defines woman as "a female of any age".

The campaigners argue that maintaining this definition is key to "maintaining women's rights and protections in law."

It is feared that if it becomes established that devolved legislatures can amend key terms in the Equality Act via other pieces of legislation, then other countries within the UK may follow and the Equality Act may be undermined.

The Gender Representation on Public Boards Act was aimed at ensuring equal representation between men and women on public boards in Scotland.

But it states the definition of woman should include “a person who has the protected characteristic of gender reassignment ... if, and only if, the person is living as a woman and is proposing to undergo, is undergoing or has undergone a process (or part of a process) for the purpose of becoming female."

The campaigners claim the Scottish Parliament has acted outwith its competence by confusing the distinct protected characteristics of "sex" and "gender reassignment".

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “It would not be appropriate to comment on a live court action.”

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