Conversion therapy: Human rights lawyers demand ban amid repeated delays

Members of the LGBT+ community have been protesting against conversion therapy for years - pictured here are demonstrators in Belfast in 2019. Credit: PA

Senior lawyers and other human rights experts have recommended that conversion therapy should be criminalised.

Earlier this year, the government promised to ban the practice, which attempts to change or suppress someone’s sexuality or gender identity.

However, the pledge has been blighted by repeated delays, with a promised consultation on the exact scope of the ban recently postponed by another month.

Chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, the ‘Cooper Report’ has now recommended a legal blueprint for outlawing the practice, as debate rages over whether religious freedoms might be impinged.

The group of lawyers, academics, parliamentarians and others says a combination of criminalisation and civil law measures, such as protection orders, should be put in place to safeguard people from the practice.

They call for a widespread ban of all conversion therapy, including religious practices.

Baroness Helena Kennedy QC explained, “We see criminalisation as essential when dealing with human rights abuses, as this draws a clear line as to what acts will and will not be tolerated in a civilised society.

"This should sit alongside new civil law measures, such as protection orders, which will help provide immediate support to those most at risk – such as LGBT+ children and vulnerable adults.

"This will ensure that perpetrators are left in no doubt that if they continue their harmful practices, they will face the full force of the law.”

Former PM Theresa May first promised to ban conversion therapy in an interview with ITV News in 2018.

However, since then little progress has been made, despite repeated government pledges to outlaw the practice.

The Cooper Report deals with the difficult question of how the government should define “conversion therapy”, which is of particular concern to some religious organisations who have claimed that a ban could restrict pastoral guidance and prayer.

The lawyers recommend that the term “conversion practices” is used instead, as the practices involved are not therapeutic and often occur in a religious or cultural setting, not just a medical one.

The government’s envoy on LGBT+ rights Lord Herbert said he welcomed the report and reiterated that the government was looking at how, not whether, conversation therapy should be banned. 

Former government equalities advisor Jayne Ozanne, whose Foundation commissioned the report, said: “Whilst there have been many who have sought to muddy the water and question whether it is possible to define “conversion therapy”, the report is clear that it should relate to ‘any practice that attempts to suppress, ‘cure’ or change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity’.”

Ms Ozanne resigned from her post on Downing Street’s LGBT+ advisory panel earlier this year, accusing the government of creating a “hostile environment” for LGBT+ people.

The government continues to insist that it is committed to a ban on conversion therapy, which will be brought forward following the public consultation.