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Equality campaigners welcome court decision on census

This news post is about 2 years old

A judge ruled ministers acted within their lawful powers by approving trans-inclusive guidance for the next Scottish Census. 

A Scottish equality charity has welcomed a legal decision on transgender rights following a challenge on self-identification

Representatives from Scottish Trans said they were pleased the Court of Session upheld census guidance allowing trans men and women to self-identify their lived sex. 

Lord Sandison held in the Outer House of the court that Scottish Ministers acted within their lawful powers by approving trans-inclusive guidance for the sex question on the next Scottish Census. 

The guidance says that trans men and trans women can answer the sex question in line with how they live their lives, whether or not they’ve changed the sex on their birth certificate.

His opinion finds that there is no general rule of law that a person’s sex may only ever be answered by reference to the sex stated on their birth certificate or a gender recognition certificate (GRC).  

Lord Sandison goes on to note that the way sex and gender are recognised by different public authorities reflects the modern reality that sex is not generally now regarded as a pure matter of biology, but is a more nuanced concept. 

For that reason, he concluded that Scottish Ministers were acting within their powers in issuing the census guidance.

The case was heard by the Court of Session on February 2, 2022.

Scottish Trans were granted permission to intervene in the case, in the public interest. 

Scottish Trans provided the court with a perspective of how trans men and trans women would be impacted if the guidance were to be scrapped, and why it was the right thing, both in law and for producing the best quality data, to count trans men and trans women as who they are on Census Day.

Vic Valentine, Scottish Trans manager, said: "We are pleased that Lord Sandison has held that the guidance produced to go alongside the Census is lawful. 

“Scotland’s Census is meant to count everyone in Scotland as who they are on Census Day, and the guidance provided reassures trans men and trans women that this is the same for them as it is for everyone else. 

“This is an important decision: clearly stating that all trans men and trans women are able to be counted on the Census as who they are, not just those who have changed the sex on their birth certificate.

“To change the sex on their birth certificate, a trans woman or trans man has to go through a stressful, lengthy and difficult process of applying for a Gender Recognition Certificate, that often takes many years. 

“Yet trans men and trans women can update all of their other identity documents, be seen by family and friends as a man or woman, and be living their lives for many years completely as themselves before applying for one.

“We believe trans men and trans women who have not changed the sex on their birth certificate have the right to have their identity respected, recognised, and counted too, and welcome this decision.”

A group called 'Fair Play for Women’ (FPFW) had applied for a judicial review to have the guidance scrapped, because they objected to the fact it does not tell trans women and trans men that they must answer with the sex recorded on their birth certificate or gender recognition certificate.  

The judgement has the effect of rejecting FPFW’s petition for judicial review.

FPFW said in a statement: “We are disappointed with the judgement and will be requesting an urgent appeal. 

“The guidance proposed for the sex question will jeopardise the collection of accurate data on sex in the Scottish census and erodes the harmonisation of data collected via censuses across the UK.”

Scottish Trans were represented pro bono by the Scottish Just Law Centre at JustRight, which was formed to ensure that third sector organisations like Scottish Trans have a fair opportunity to participate in legal processes. 

JustRight Scotland director, Jen Ang, said: “We look forward to continuing to support individuals and organisations in Scotland to participate in important legal cases, like this one – sharing their evidence and experience on issues of discrimination and inequality.”