Guidance on sex question in UK census need to be changed, high court

Assistance on the sex question in the UK census need to be altered before the official day to finish it on 21 March, a high court judge has actually ruled.

The Office for National Data (ONS) had provided brand-new guidance on how to respond to the concern “What is your sex?” on the study this year, which read: “If you are thinking about how to address, utilize the sex taped on one of your legal files such as a birth certificate, gender acknowledgment certificate, or passport.”

It included: “If you are aged 16 years or over, there is a later voluntary concern on gender identity. This asks if the gender you identify with is various from your sex registered at birth. If it is various, you can then tape-record your gender identity.”

However, on Tuesday Mr Justice Swift bought that the guidance should be rewritten to get rid of the words “such as” and “or passport”, to explain that participants should just use the sex tape-recorded on their birth or gender recognition certificate. A little more than an hour after the judge’s ruling the text had been altered.

The campaign group Fair Play For Women, which crowdfunded ₤ 100,000 to bring the legal obstacle, had argued that the ONS wording allowed “self-identification through the back entrance”.

Jason Coppel QC, representing the group, informed the court the guidance “conflates and confuses” sex with gender identity, mentioning that an individual’s sex on a passport, or other legal file such as a driving licence, can be modified without a formal legal process. This ran the risk of “misshaping” the information the ONS collected through the census, he included.

Allowing for the case to proceed to a complete judicial review, the judge stated there was a “inequality” between the way the guidance was phrased and legislation that sets out how the census needs to be carried out.

He added that he was satisfied the project group had a “strongly arguable case” and was “most likely than not to succeed” relating to the legal significance of sex as specified in the legislation.

Lawyers for Fair Play For Women had argued it would be “much safer” to withdraw the assistance, provided the scarcity of time until census day. Paper copies of the census do not include the brand-new guidance.

The census is happening in England, Wales and Northern Ireland on 21 March, while Scotland’s census has actually been delayed for a year because of coronavirus.

Participants are being asked to fill out the online type on that day or as quickly as possible later on, however the website is currently live. The judge expressed surprise that according to the ONS a fifth of households (about 3 million) had already completed the study when it was “clear” that census day was Sunday 21 March.

Dr Nicola Williams, the director of Fair Play For Women, stated in a statement before the hearing: “Accurate information on sex matters. It matters most to females and girls. We need it. If we don’t have excellent data on sex we can’t monitor inequalities due to sex, and if we can’t measure it we can’t make good policies to correct it.”

In a declaration posted on its website in February, the ONS stated it was continuing to ask a binary option sex question on the census with the only possible answers being male or female.

” This technique is unchanged since 1801. There is a new voluntary question on gender identity for people aged 16 years and over later on in the questionnaire,” said the declaration.

It continued: “Similar to previous censuses, many people will not require help to address the sex concern … By describing ‘legal files’ the guidance explains we are describing government-issued files. This is not self-identification, which was assessed as part of a variety of choices but not taken forward.”

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