Court challenge over census sex question The Times 20.02.21

The original article is here.

Campaigners have launched a legal challenge against the Office for National Statistics over the question of sex in next month’s census.

The ten-yearly survey has asked if a person is male or female since 1801, but in 2011 people were allowed to answer according to whichever gender identity they felt best described them, rather than their biological sex.

Campaigners and statisticians said that approach eroded the quality of sex data that the government needed to plan, run and fund services.

The census on March 21 will for the first time include a voluntary question asking a person’s gender identity, as well as asking a person’s legal sex — that is either their birth sex or the legal sex as stated on a gender recognition certificate.

Fair Play for Women, a campaign group, is seeking a judicial review to challenge the question’s small print, which says: “If you are considering how to answer, use the sex recorded on one of your legal documents such as a birth certificate, gender recognition certificate or passport”.

The campaigners say this guidance is unlawful because it allows people to answer the question according to their preferred gender identity, which might be recorded on documents that do not meet the threshold for legal sex. Only birth certificates and gender recognition certificates record a person’s legal sex. Other documents, such as passports, can be updated to include a gender identity that is different from your legal sex.

The small print, they say, means the census will effectively have two questions on gender identity, and none that strictly collects data on legal sex. Fair Play for Women is calling on the ONS to withdraw the sentence and if not it will apply to the High Court for the judicial review.

Dr Nicola Williams, of Fair Play for Women, said: “If we don’t have good data on sex we can’t monitor inequalities due to sex . . . we can’t remedy it. Sex matters. A lack of sex-disaggregated data often leads to the needs of women and girls being ignored.”

The ONS said: “The guidance makes clear we are referring to government-issued documents. This is not self-identification.”

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