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Scottish Parliament Rejects Call To Legalise Incest

A legal quirk forced the parliament to consider a call to legalise incest but it was immediately thrown out.

Originally posted on
Updated on

The Scottish parliament was forced to consider a call to legalise incest on Tuesday due to a quirk that means all petitions must be looked at if they relate to a change in the law.

The Scottish parliament in Edinburgh.
Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

The Scottish parliament in Edinburgh.

A group of MSPs had no choice but to consider a petition to urge the Scottish government to change the law on incest so that "it is not applicable in the cases where participants are both consenting adults over the age of 21".

As law is devolved to Scotland, the parliament's petition committee had to consider it even though the head of the committee said he personally found the content of it "abhorrent".

The petition was submitted by a man called Richard Morris who is believed to live in Australia. He claims to have written a book about incest and has sent letters to Nicola Sturgeon and the Queen calling on them both to do more to help legalise ACI (adult consensual incest).

Morris did not appear before the committee to make his case, but in the background notes to his petition he wrote:

The law does unnecessarily and unfairly punish consensual adult incest, breaching the rights to sexual autonomy for all consenting adults that is accepted in other more developed countries. The law of incest in Scots law should be reformed.

The submission of the petition has also led to the Scottish parliament's information service having to write a detailed briefing on the laws of incest in Scotland, which concludes that there has been "no recent government action or parliamentary consideration of this area of law".

The convener of the public petitions committee, Labour MSP Michael McMahon, said he was personally opposed to the petition's content but has no choice but to consider it: "I recognise the petition addresses a subject matter that many people find abhorrent. Speaking personally, I take a similar view.

"However, all petitions that fall within the committee's rules must be given our open and transparent consideration. It will be for the committee to decide if there can be any public interest in continuing this petition when we meet on Tuesday 26 January."

UPDATE: The committee immediately threw out the petition on the basis that there is "no indication that there is any desire" to legalise incest in Scotland.

McMahon told the committee that a review of the Scottish incest laws had been carried out in 2007 and, as it concluded that Scots were broadly in favour of keeping incest illegal as it is currently defined, there "isn't any value" in taking the petition forward.

"I can't see that that position would have changed in the intervening period," said McMahon. "I have no indication at all that is any desire to see that change, but I'm open to committee members to either agree or disagree with me."

No committee members chose to disagree with him.

Jamie Ross is a Scotland reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Edinburgh.

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