Pressure mounts over 'illiberal' Holyrood plans that exceed its powers

6, January 2023

Let Us Pray explained last month that the Scottish Government's plans for a criminal ban on ‘conversion therapy’ put it on a collision course with the courts.

A formal legal opinion from top lawyer, Aidan O’Neill KC, is clear that recommendations from the Scottish Government’s ‘Expert Advisory Group’ are “fundamentally illiberal” and exceed the Executive’s powers.

With all eyes fixed on Holyrood’s gender self-ID Bill last month, it has taken a few weeks for pressure to build. But the story exploded on Twitter yesterday and was covered by all of Scotland's major news outlets. Let Us Pray’s spokesman, Simon Calvert, was quoted throughout.

With pressure mounting, the Scottish Government must surely now recognise it has to rethink its repressive plans.

Let Us Pray has always been clear that it does not oppose laws to tackle genuine abuse and coercion. Christians believe in the dignity of all people. All are made in God’s image.

But abuse is already illegal. The legal opinion written by Aidan O’Neill KC is very clear on that. A new law in this area simply isn’t needed.

The Scottish Government’s own ‘Expert Advisory Group’ did not give an account of current laws when it published its recommendations last autumn.

That leaves a fundamental flaw in its proposals: they say the Scottish Government should criminalise ‘torturous’ or ‘degrading’ practices, but the law already does just that.

But the ‘Expert Group’ wants to go much further. It wants to criminalise actions few would consider to be ‘conversion therapy’. That would include prayer or pastoral care that upholds the Bible’s teaching.

It says the Scottish Government should introduce a law like that of Victoria, Australia. The ban there outlaws “not affirming someone’s gender identity” and “a parent refusing to support” their child’s request for puberty blockers. Parents found guilty of a new Scottish offence could have their “parental rights removed”, say these Scottish Government advisors.

Such a totalitarian law would be challenged in the courts. Aidan O’Neill KC’s opinion makes it clear that such a law would exceed the Scottish Government’s powers. He agrees that it would contravene multiple Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. Holyrood cannot legislate in this way.

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