SNP must get its act together on gender bill Jenny Mara Sunday Times 15.03.20

The original article is here.

Last month, a man walked in on a woman showering in a new community and sports centre in Dundee. The man was mortified. The woman was said to be fine. But the situation could have been a lot more serious.

Across Scotland, more and more organisations are removing single-sex facilities, to accommodate a small minority of the population who identify as transgender, despite the fact we know most sexual assaults take place in mixed-sex spaces.

Public policy is racing ahead of the law as councils and other public bodies anticipate the SNP’s proposed reforms of the Gender Recognition Act. Right now, to change the sex on your birth certificate, although you don’t need to undergo any medical or surgical treatments, you do need a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. The Scottish government wants to move to system where you simply make a statutory declaration without any medical gatekeeping. It also wants to reduce the age at which you can change legal sex to 16.

A growing number of MSPs are concerned about the safeguarding implications of this proposal for women and children, and the potential loophole it will create for predatory men. Over the past year, my colleagues and I have been working hard to develop our understanding of this complex area of law and policy. However, at meetings in parliament in recent weeks, we’ve become concerned at the inability of many key experts to answer basic questions on the legal implications of the proposed reforms.

Legislation as sensitive as this must be underpinned by diligent and detailed analysis which, it seems, is badly lacking. It is the views of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Law Society of Scotland, the children’s commissioner and other “experts” that the minister will rely on and quote when the government brings the bill to parliament.

Good law should be clear in its intention and in its effects. Much of my time as convener of the public audit and post-legislative scrutiny committee is spent poring over existing statute where it falls short of that mark. If my colleagues and I find ourselves unpicking the stitching of past acts of parliament, then something in the law-making process has been deficient.

The government intends to enact these proposals before the 2021 Holyrood election. Soon MSPs will be asked to scrutinise and amend this proposed legislation. If we fail in our duty to pay due diligence to the complexities of the law in this area, and are forced to rely on inadequate analysis, we will reap the consequences in the courts down the line — a situation none of us want to see.

Jenny Marra is a Labour MSP for northeast Scotland