UK gov't concedes defeat to Fair Play For Women in census sex row

Wednesday, 17 March 2021 14:30 GMT

FILE PHOTO: A general view of the Royal Courts of Justice, more commonly known as the High Court in London, Britain November 2, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

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The Office for National Statistics will offer a binary choice of male or female, after women’s rights activists said it was allowing people to define sex themselves

By Hugo Greenhalgh

LONDON, March 17 (Openly) - The British government has conceded defeat in a legal challenge brought by women's rights activists over guidance given to transgender people on how to detail their sex in the country's 2021 census.

The High Court last week ordered the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to compel respondents to give their legally recognised sex, after Fair Play For Women (FPFW) complained the initial guidance allowed people to define their sex themselves.

"Following the court's judgment, we will be focusing all our efforts on maximising responses to Census 2021 from everyone and will not be progressing further with the case," the ONS said in a statement.

"We are continuing to ask a  binary choice, female or male, sex question on the census. This approach is unchanged since 1801. There is also a new voluntary question on gender identity for people aged 16 years and over later in the questionnaire."

In response, the court said that a full judicial review into the lawfulness of the ONS's actions, as initially requested by FPFW, would no longer go ahead.

The ONS said it had amended its guidance in line with the court's order to advise people to use the sex on their birth certificate or gender recognition certificate - a document that legally recognises a trans person's new gender and name.

The decision comes amid an increasingly bitter row over trans rights in Britain, where the government last year abandoned plans to make it easier for trans people to change their sex on official documents after a heated debate.

The original ONS census guidance said: "For those whose gender is different from their sex registered at birth, who may find the question difficult to answer, the answer they provide does not need to be the same as their birth certificate."

The ONS was ordered to pay up to 46,000 pounds ($63,885) in costs to FPFW.

"Being male or female is a biological reality that affects all our lives. That's why it's important to collect accurate data on sex in the census," Nicola Williams, director of FPFW, said in a statement.

"Wider questions must now be asked about how this was allowed to happen," Williams added. ($1 = 0.7200 pounds)

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(Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh @hugo_greenhalgh; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit

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