NICOLA Sturgeon has confirmed she still intends to challenge the UK Government from blocking Holyrood's gender reform bill.

The First Minister last month described a decision by Scottish Secretary Alister Jack to use a Section 35 order from the Scotland Act to stop the legislation getting royal assent as a "full frontal attack on democracy".

Mr Jack said the order had been issued after legal advice was received by the UK Government that the bill conflicted with the operation of the UK Equality Act.

Since then controversy has erupted over whether sufficient safeguards are in place under the process of gender self declaration in the Gender Recognition Reform Bill to prevent the system being misused by men wishing to harm women and whether women's rights have been fully protected.

The row follows a double rapist Isla Bryson, who self-identifies as a woman, being sent to a female prison in accordance with existing Scottish Prison Service guidance in place since 2014. Byrson committed the rapes against two women before changing gender and under the name Adam Graham. 

Bryson, 31, was removed to a male jail following a public outcry with a moratorium later announced by the Scottish Government on transgender offenders convicted of violent crimes against women being sent to the female prison estate.

During the passage of the GRR Bill critics raised concerns whether there were sufficient safeguards in the legislation to stop violent men using the process of gender self-declaration to access women only spaces such as prisons, hospital wards and changing rooms.

The GRRB makes it easier for transgender people to obtain a gender recognition certificate (GRC) allowing them a legal document stating their new gender.  As well as reducing the time a person had to live in their acquired gender, it removed the need for a medical diagnosis of gender dysphoria allowing people to self-declare their gender and also lowered the qualifying age from 18 to 16.

An amendment tabled by Tory MSP Russell Findlay, which would have placed barriers in the way of convicted sex offenders being able to apply for a gender recognition certificate (GRC) was defeated by 59 votes to 64 with two abstentions.

A separate amendment by SNP MSP Michelle Thomson, who has spoken publicly of being sexually assaulted as a teenager, which would have prevented someone charged with sexual crimes from applying for a GRC until after the trial, was also narrowly defeated.

Instead, ministers accepted a crossparty amendment from the SNP's Gillian Martin and Scottish Tory Jamie Greene that would mean anyone convicted of a sexual offence who wants to apply for a certificate would need to be fully risk-assessed.

At her press conference today the First Minister said her position on challenging Section 35 had not changed, saying it is important to have “clarity” on the circumstances in which it can be used.

"My position in terms of challenging the use of Section 35 has not changed," she told a press conference in Edinburgh today.

"Firstly in terms of the particular and specific subject matter. But secondly because I think there is a need to have greater clarity around the circumstances on which it is appropriate for the UK Government to use a Section 35 order so my position on that hasn't changed."

She added: "In terms of the bill parliament as a whole by a two thirds majority with MSPs of all parties within that two thirds majority passed that bill before Christmas. I think it was right to do so. In doing so it followed on from many other countries who have legislation of that nature already in place."

Ms Sturgeon was also asked about a lack of an independent process under the GRRB to validate whether a person was transgender or pretending to be in order to gain access to women in vulnerable circumstances.

She said: "The legislation and the specific amendments that were put into the legislation, the ability effectively to pause a process for a gender recognition certificate on the basis of police having a sexual offence order actually are a strengthening of the law around that if the law comes into force."

The First Minister was also asked about Bryson and whether she thought Bryson was “at it” in changing gender.

Ms Sturgeon said: “In this case, the individual is a rapist, that’s the important description for this individual.

“They have been convicted of rape and they’re in prison and in a male prison.
“So you deal with the individual – you don’t further stigmatise the entire group.”

Pressed further on Bryson’s case and whether she considered the prisoner to be a woman, Ms Sturgeon said: “Isla Bryson calls herself a woman, but what I’m trying to say is in the context of the prison service, that is not the relevant factor here.
“The relevant factor is the crime the individual has committed and been convicted of.”

The First Minister continued: “She regards herself a woman, I regard the individual as a rapist.”