The Government is planning for this Bill to go through parliament in spring and
summer of this year. If passed by both the House of Commons and the House of
Lords, these changes will come into law in summer 2003.
This first comprehensive reform of Sexual Offences since the mid-1950s follows the
recommendations of a Home Office Review of sexual offences published in July 2000.
The review term was drawn from a wide range of sectors
including the police, child care agencies, mental health charities, the Bar Council,
the British Medical Association and representatives of the Jewish, Muslim and
Commenting on the reforms campaign group Stonewall’s Director of Parliamentary Affairs,
Sacha Deshmukh says,
"The publication of the Bill is an important step
forward, but it is very wrong to think that the battle
over sex offences is already won. There are many members
of the House of Lords who are going to put up a tough
fight to defend the criminalisation of gay men. We
want to see all the major parties support these reforms.
The Lib Dems and Labour are firmly behind reforming
the antiquated gay sex laws. The Conservatives must now
decide whether they support sex offences law that is
fair to everyone, or whether they see themselves as the
defenders of Victorian prejudice."
"Getting rid of these laws is only half the battle
ahead. These reforms will only change the law in England
and Wales, not Scotland or Northern Ireland. We also
want to see fair treatment for the thousands of gay
men who have to live with a sex offence record, for
committing acts which both government and society now
think should never have been crimes."
Until 1885 the only law concerning gay sex was the law of buggery or sodomy. The
law applied to the act of sodomy, so heterosexual acts as well as homosexual acts
were illegal. Lesbianism has never been specifically outlawed in the UK, but there
have been some prosecutions for indecent assault. In 1885 the Labouchiere Amendment
was passed. This created the offence of gross indecency that made all sexual acts
between men illegal. The criminal law was now focused on the punishment of homosexuality.
In 1895 Oscar Wilde was prosecuted for gross indecency and sentenced to two years in prison.
Thousands of gay men were blackmailed, prosecuted, sentenced to prison, pilloried and
shamed. Men like Alan Turing, who helped break the Enigma code, committed suicide
shortly after his prosecution. In the 1950s a widely publicised case, the Montagu - Wildeblood
trial, reawakened the movement for reform.
More on the new Sexual Offences Bill