Scottish parents at risk of jail if they refuse to allow children to dress provocatively

Following a major backlash to their plans, the Scottish Government downplayed concerns, claiming it was not the intention to criminalise parents
Following a major backlash to their plans, the Scottish Government downplayed concerns, claiming it was not the intention to criminalise parents - SABRINA BRACHER/ISTOCKPHOTO

Loving parents who refuse to allow their teenage children to dress in a sexually provocative manner could face jail under the SNP’s conversion therapy ban, a KC has warned.

Aidan O’Neill, a leading Scottish advocate, condemned the proposals as “confused and fundamentally illiberal” and said those who do not subscribe to “the state’s new dogmas on sex, sexuality and gender identity” could face up to seven years behind bars.

In a legal opinion, he said this would include parents who did not allow their children to dress as members of the opposite sex.

The proposals would also have “the undoubted effect of criminalising much mainstream pastoral work of churches, mosques and synagogues and temples” if they become law, Mr O’Neill said.

In plans unveiled last month, the Scottish Government proposed to ban any attempt to “change or suppress” a person’s gender identity or sexuality, or expression of them.

A serious criminal offence would be committed so long as actions were “coercive” and caused physical or psychological harm.

Following a major backlash to the plans, the Scottish Government attempted to downplay concerns, claiming it was not the intention to criminalise parents.

However, Mr O’Neill’s opinion states that the plans are so wide-ranging that even a parent of a hererosexual teenager could face prosecution if they tried to restrict their clothing choices.


This is because suppressing “expression” of sexual orientation would be criminalised.

“This definition of coercion would clearly therefore include parents seeking to control how their child ‘presents’ in terms of, say clothes, make-up, and hairstyle,” his opinion states.

“Thus parents who actively and consistently and directly oppose their child’s decision to, for example, present as a different gender from that given at birth would be committing a criminal offence.

“A parent’s inflexible and absolute ban forbidding, say, their 14-year-old daughter, going out publicly dressed in what might be regarded, by her parents as an overly sexualised and sexually provocative and explicit way could, in principle, be criminalised under this proposed legislation.

“It is clear that it will be no defence for a parent to say that they acted out of love and with a view to help their child.”

The opinion disputes SNP claims that the plans will respect existing legal rights to family life and free speech. Mr O’Neill said the proposals would amount to an unjustified intrusion into such areas, which may well be beyond the scope of Holyrood’s powers.

While the courts would have to find that a child had been harmed, an act causing “distress” would be enough to pass the threshold, according to the consultation.

The Christian Institute, which commissioned the opinion has already vowed to fight the ban in the courts.

“This is perhaps best described as ‘jellyfish legislation’,” Mr O’Neill wrote.

“The concepts it uses are impossible to grasp; its limits are wholly undefined; it contains a sting in the tail in the form of criminal sanction of up to seven years and unlimited fines.

“In sum, these proposals from the Scottish Government for legislation are ill-thought out, confused and confusing, and fundamentally illiberal in intent and effect.”

While the SNP government has sought to reassure parents, the plans were drawn up with the help of trans activists who are pushing for a far-reaching ban.

The SNP’s coalition partners in the Scottish Greens are pushing for a comprehensive ban and have dismissed fears over parental rights as “nonsense”.

Several SNP politicians fear the legislation could become as unpopular as Nicola Sturgeon’s self-ID law, which was blocked by the UK Government.

Simon Calvert, The Christian Insistute’s deputy director, said the plans were “outrageous”.

“This is another example of the Scottish Government asking Holyrood to exceed its powers and impose draconian legislation on the people,” he said.

“If this deeply flawed law is passed it will be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary.

“Ordinary mums and dads face criminalisation for trying to extract their kids from the grip of radical trans ideology. Church leaders face prosecution for not praying in accordance with state dogmas.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “Our proposals do not prohibit parental and religious guidance that is not motivated by an intention to change or suppress their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“Our approach fully respects the existing legal right to a private and family life, and the freedoms of speech, religion and belief. This is a consultation, and the Scottish Government is open to all views.”

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