Christian Concern has threatened the government with legal action if it goes ahead with its proposed ‘conversion therapy’ ban.
The group says that if the government goes ahead with any of its proposals as part of the Queen’s Speech on 10 May, it will bring legal proceedings.
This would involve an application for a Declaration of Incompatibility under Section 4 of the Human Rights Act as a ban would infringe freedom of the individual to exercise personal autonomy rights. It would also raise serious questions about compatibility with other Articles of the Convention, including Article 9 which guarantees religious freedom. This would make any legislation banning ‘conversion therapy’ in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.
By constitutional convention Parliament would then be bound to pass amending legislation or to repeal it altogether.
Christian Concern has published a legal opinion by Christian Legal Centre lawyer Roger Kiska, who specialises in International Human Rights law, questioning the lawfulness of the proposed ban.
The opinion states:
“That the new law addressing ‘talking conversion therapy’ would have significant legal and social consequences, particularly for those who have legal capacity and desire counselling, for their own reasons, to move away from same-sex attraction or behaviour, or to reconcile their gender identity with their biological sex.”
It adds that:
“A ban could also affect practitioners caught up in an overly broad or ill-defined ban on ‘conversion therapy’, despite practising within a peer regulated and ethical framework. This could give rise to claims under Protocol 1, Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Government’s double u-turn
A chaotic week has seen a leaked government document reveal plans to drop proposed legislation.
The document detailed how government’s own commissioned research has shown that “the evidence-base for further legislative measures on conversion therapy is weak.”
However, following intense media pressure from the LGBT lobby, a U-turn followed within hours with the government re-committing to the ban, but only for practices relating to sexuality, not gender.
Although the new promise of legislation only to cover sexual orientation may appease some gender-critical campaigners, members of the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition remain furious at the suggestion that gender identity has been removed from the government’s plans.
In the light of this confusion, a group of church leaders wrote to the Prime Minister asking for “urgent clarification” of what the government now intended to do and reminding him that a poorly drafted law would make it “illegal for us to teach people and help people of every age to live according to the Christian understanding of marriage.”
The authors of this letter were initial signatories of a previous letter, signed by over 2,500 ministers, saying that, if necessary, they would “do [their] duty to God” by disobeying such a law and risk criminalisation.
The House of Commons is in recess over Easter until 19 April.
Crunch talks were held by the government on Monday 5 April, leading to a statement saying it will treat “trans conversion therapy” separately to “gay conversion therapy” due to their concerns about “unintended consequences”, particularly for under 18s.
Government is ‘being strong-armed’
Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said: “The government is being strong-armed by manipulative campaigns rather than following its own research that further legislation is not needed. The fear of upsetting privileged lobbyists runs so deep the Prime Minister capitulated within hours.
“No one has produced any evidence of what LGBT activists call coercive “conversion therapy”. What the activists describe would, already be illegal.
“The government’s proposals would only stop people seeking the change they want to see in their lives. That is a basic freedom which the government should not try to take away.
“Whatever is announced by the government in May, the problems remain: the definitions are inadequate, human rights will be breached and there is no evidence that a ban will help anyone. In such a scenario we will face no alternative but to pursue legal action against any proposed legislation in this area.”
Read the full legal opinion.