Scottish Govt on collision course with courts over conversion therapy plans

12, December 2022

A leading human rights lawyer has said that the Scottish Government would be exceeding its legislative powers if it pursues proposals to ban conversion therapy.

In an independent legal opinion, top KC Aidan O’Neill says recommendations made by the Government’s own ‘Expert Advisory Group’ are “fundamentally illiberal” and, if adopted, would criminalise innocent parents and preachers.

The strongly-worded written advice is clear that the plans interfere with Westminster powers and human rights law, and could be met with fierce opposition in the courts.

The legal opinion was commissioned by The Christian Institute, from the same lawyer whose services were used in 2016 when it successfully overturned the Scottish Government’s named person scheme.

In his written opinion, O’Neill explains that the conversion therapy ban proposals would redefine discrimination law, which is reserved to Westminster.

In its recommendations, the Expert Advisory Group does not account for the laws already protecting LGBT people. They are rightly already protected from abuse and coercion, as everyone should be. New laws are simply unnecessary.

Instead, such a broad conversion therapy ban would go much further, criminalising the ordinary work of churches – prayer, preaching, pastoral care and Christian parenting.

O’Neill is clear that the European Convention on Human Rights prohibits such repressive laws. He explains that the Scottish Government would breach as many as four convention rights if it followed the advice of its Expert Advisory Group.

Simon Calvert, a Deputy Director at The CI and official supporter of Let Us Pray said:

“If the Scottish Government follows the advice of its Expert Advisory Group it will be exceeding its powers and inflicting the most totalitarian conversion therapy ban in the world.

“Mr O’Neill says the proposals would have the ‘undoubted effect of criminalising much mainstream pastoral work of churches, mosques and synagogues and temples’ and that ‘Prayers and sermons would be criminalised if their content did not conform to the new State requirements’. [Para. 5.10 of the opinion]

“Church workers, feminist activists, mums and dads – all sorts of innocent people could find themselves on the wrong end of a prosecution if this becomes law. And I think Scottish taxpayers will eventually find themselves picking up the legal bill for another court defeat.

“LGBT people are rightly protected from physical and verbal abuse by existing law just like anyone else. But these proposals go much, much further. The Scottish Government is considering a law that could criminalise churches and gender-critical feminists alike simply because their conversations around sex and gender don’t conform to a narrow, state-approved brand of LGBT politics."

You can read a summary of Aidan O’Neill KC’s legal opinion here.

The full legal opinion can be found here.

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