The UK government has referred two Bills passed unanimously by the Scottish parliament to the Supreme Court over concerns it is outwith Holyrood’s powers.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill and the European Charter of Local Self-Government (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill were passed in the weeks leading up to the parliamentary recess.
The UK government has insisted the referral was not due to the substance of the Bills, but because of technical aspects which may place legal duties on UK ministers, but first minister Nicola Sturgeon has described the move as “morally repugnant”.
Before the passage of the Bill, Scottish secretary Alister Jack wrote to the deputy first minister to ask for changes to be made to the children’s Bill, which was proposed by the Scottish government.
No changes were made to the Bill, which aims to ensure no public body in Scotland can infringe upon the rights laid out in the charter, leading to its referral to the Supreme Court.
A spokeswoman for the UK government said: “UK government Law Officers have today referred two Bills from the Scottish parliament to the Supreme Court under Section 33 of the Scotland Act 1998.
“The UK government Law Officers’ concerns are not about the substance of the legislation, rather whether parts are outwith the legislative competence of the Scottish parliament.”
In a letter after the passage of the Bill, the Scottish secretary said there were concerns it would place legal obligations on UK ministers in reserved areas.
Similar issues were expressed with the local government Bill, which was proposed by independent MSP Andy Wightman.
As the news broke, first minister Nicola Sturgeon attacked the move, taking to Twitter to say: “Jaw-dropping. The UK Tory government is going to Court to challenge a law passed by @scotparl unanimously.
“And for what? To protect their ability to legislate/act in ways that breach children’s rights in Scotland.
“Politically catastrophic, but also morally repugnant.”
Deputy first minister John Swinney also promised to fight the challenge, which he sought to paint as an attack on the rights of children.
“Not a single voice in the parliament was raised against the Bill. It passed unanimously,” he said.
“And, crucially, it has been certified independently by the Presiding Officer as being within the powers of the Scottish parliament.
“Now, the Tory Westminster government is trying to veto those rights. That is not just morally repugnant but it is also deeply menacing.
“The only people who need fear this Bill are people who want to breach children’s rights.
“The only people who want to block this Bill are people who know they are already breaking those rights.
“So, if the Tories want to target the rights of Scottish children, then they can expect to see us in court.”
Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “The Conservatives are bereft of compassion and have completely lost their way.
“At this time of national crisis, we should be pulling together to build a fairer Scotland, not playing petty political games.
“Scotland deserves a better opposition.”