Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885

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The Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 was an Act of Parliament, which was mainly concerned with raising the age of consent for girls from 13 to 16 and changing the law on brothels.

Section 11 of the Act, introduced late one evening by Henry Labouchère MP, and hence referred to as the Labouchere Amendment, made "gross indecency" between males a crime. Gross indecency was not defined, as it was thought immoral to actually specify in law what it meant, but in effect any sexual activity between men, in public or private, became a crime. In practice, the law was used broadly to prosecute male homosexuals where actual sodomy could not be proven. Lawyers dubbed Section 11 the "blackmailer's charter,"[1].

Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing were both convicted of gross indecency, Wilde in 1895 was given two years hard labour, and Turing in 1952, his punishment was chemical castration, which probably led to his suicide.

It was superseded by later legislation. Notably the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised homosexual behaviour in private between men over 21 in England and Wales. Decriminalisation followed in Scotland in 1980, and in Northern Ireland in 1982 (and in the Irish Republic not until 1993). The offence of gross indecency was abolished altogether by the Sexual Offences Act 2003.

References

  1. On Queer Street, Hugh David, p 17, ISBN 0-00-638451-X