Attorney General refuses to be drawn on legal advice over Section 35
THE UK Government’s top law officer has refused to be drawn on the legal advice given to Alister Jack before he blocked the Scottish Parliament’s Gender Recognition Reform Bill.
Victoria Prentis, the Attorney General, told the Commons that, by convention, she could not share with MP any legal advice given to ministers or even disclose if she had been asked to provide advice.
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Last month, for the first time in devolution, Mr Jack made an order under section 35 of the Scotland Act to stop the legislation from receiving royal assent.
The Bill - passed by MSPs just before Christmas - simplifies the process for obtaining a gender recognition certificate by removing the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria.
It also reduces the length of time someone would need to live in their acquired gender from two years to less than 12 months, and lowers the minimum age for applications from 18 to 16.
In his statement of reasons, Mr Jack warned it would impact the UK-wide Equality Act, and create "two parallel and very different regimes" for issuing and interpreting Gender Recognition Certificates.
READ MORE: EXPLAINED Section 35 Scotland Act: What is it and why is Alister Jack using it?
In the Commons, the SNP’s Stuart McDonald asked Ms Prentis what discussions she had had with Cabinet colleagues “on the potential implications of an order under Section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998 for the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.”
The minister replied: “By convention, whether the law officers have been asked to provide advice and the contents of such advice are not disclosed outside government. This convention enables candid legal advice to be given.”
Mr McDonald then asked the minister why the prospect of a Section 35 order was “not raised at any point prior to the Bill being overwhelmingly passed by the Scottish Parliament?”
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He added: “What alternatives did she look at? And when will she set out the changes to the Bill that she would want to see before the government would revoke that Section 35 order?
“These are simple questions, and if you can't answer them all we can conclude is that the government has lost the last shred of respect it has for the Scottish Parliament.”
Ms Prentis said that “would be absolutely the wrong conclusion to draw.”
She added: “The Attorney General's convention is clear. The UK government respects the Scottish Parliament's ability to legislate within its competence on devolved areas.
"The government is committed to working together with the [develoved authorities] and strengthening the union of the UK.”