NICOLA Sturgeon has refused to pause plans to simplify the law on gender recognition despite a plea by the UK’s leading equality body.

The First Minister was asked at FMQs if she would heed the warning issued by the Equality and Human Rights Commission on Wednesday.

The EHRC said “more detailed consideration” was needed before the Scottish Government made any attempt to overhaul the 2004 legislation which currently covers the issue.

The body cited concerns about “extending the ability to change legal sex from a small defined group… to a wider group who identify as the opposite gender at a given point”. 

The EHRC warned there could be consequences for data collection, participation and drug testing in competitive sport, the criminal justice system and other areas.

It said the “established legal concept of sex, together with the existing protections from gender reassignment discrimination for trans people” provided the correct balance.  

At FMQs, Tory MSP Meghan Gallacher asked Ms Sturgeon if she acknowledged the concerns raised by the EHRC and how she would mitigate them if she pressed ahead with her plans.

Ms Sturgeon merely said she “noted” the letter from the EHRC, and told MSPs it was a departure from its previous support for GRA reform in two Scottish consultations in 2017 and 2019.

“Obviously it’s for the Commission to say why it’s position has changed, but I think it’s important for me to narrate that it is a change in position,” she said.

The FM then defended the Government’s plans and said the timetable for legislation would be detailed “in due course”, giving no sign it had been altered.

Under the joint government deal between the SNP and Greens, a Bill will be introduced at Holyrood by the summer on updating the UK Gender Recognition Act (GRA). 

The GRA requires trans people who want to change gender in the eyes of the law must obtain a  certificate based on a medical diagnosis, in a process that takes at least two years. 

The new Holyrood law would remove the medical element and shorten the time to six months, relying on self-declaration before a notary public or a justice of the peace.

Opponents fear the move will see men who identify as women using single-sex spaces and services, such as refugees, some of whom may abuse the system to prey on women.

Ms Sturgeon said she was "slightly concerned" at some mischaracterising of the the Bill. 

She said: “What the Bill will seek to do is simplify and existing process. It doesn’t confer any new rights on trans people, nor does it change any of the existing protections in the Equality Act.

“It doesn’t change the current position on data collection or the ability of sports organisations to take decisions, for example. 

“So we will continue to engage with a range of organisations. 

“But let me express again - this is a Bill that is designed to simplify an existing process to reduce the distress, the trauma, the anxiety and often the stigmatisation that trans people suffer in our society, and the Government will set out its plans for the timetabling of that legislation in due course.”