Most of the law relating to sexual offences in the UK during the second half of the twentieth century were contained in this Act. Prior to becoming an Act the 1956 Bill was debated in the House of Commons for just three minutes. Although amendments to these laws were later made under the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, so that gay sex between two men over 21 in private was decriminalised, many of the sections of the 1956 Act continued to be the law for the rest of the century. For example, more than two men having gay sex would be charged with gross indecency under Section 13 of the 1956 Act, even after 1967.
In 1996 the Yorkshire police prosecuted five men under the 1956 Act because they were having group gay sex. Proof of the 'crime' came to light because a videos of the five men engaging in oral sex had been made and were siezed by the police during a raid on the home of one of the men. This was a Yorkshire man who came to be known only by his initials, ADT, although it also came to be known that he was a gay local government official who was born in 1948. All the men were consenting adults and the activity took place in private. There was no suggestion that the videos would end up in the public domain. ADT was convicted of gross indecency and was given a two-year conditional discharge in November 1996. He took the case to the European Court of Human Rights, and was represented by Ben Emmerson QC. On 31st. July, 2000 seven judges at the Strasbourg the Court upheld the claim that the police action had violated fundamental principles by 'an interference with the applicant's right to respect for a private family life' under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Court awarded ADT £20929.05 in damages and £12391.83 in costs. This unanimous ruling meant that the British government would have to redraft the law. In the meantime the Crown Prosecution Service would not prosecute any cases involving consensual gay group sex in private.
"A Labour manifesto commitment to further liberalise gay laws would carry risks for Mr Blair, who has little choice but to act on the European court ruling, as Britain is a signatory to the European convention on human rights."
"Angela Mason, the executive director of Stonewall, a British gay rights group, said: 'This judgement drives a coach and horses through the gross indecency laws. It vindicates the view that this legislation violates the right to privacy. It makes the new proposal, to introduce an even-handed public sex offence, even more pressing'."
"Peter Tatchell of the gay rights group Outrage! described the ruling as an 'historic victory,' ... 'But it's a great shame that legal change has to be imposed via the European Court rather than the free will of a Parliament that respects the rights of its gay citizens'."
"A Home Office spokeswoman said the judgement would be taken into account in formulating a new sexual offences law. 'In our observations to the court the UK government made it clear that this area of the law is already under review'."
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First uploaded 3rd. August, 2000.
Last altered 4th. August, 2000