Criminal Law

The Criminal law has almost nothing to say about the regulation of consensual sexual activity between adult lesbians. Gay men, on the other hand, have been the specific target for criminal law for at least a century. The 'classic' charges brought against gay men engaging in consensual sexual offences are buggery, gross indecency and importuning ('persistently solicit or importune in a public place for immoral purposes'). The targets of most of the prosecutions under these laws were men caught allegedly abusing the facilities of public lavatories (cottages) or engaging in sexual activity at night in deserted parks or wasteland (cruising grounds).

Despite publicity about the removal of laws relating to cottaging a specific offence of Sex in a public toilet has been introduced. The new offence carries a sentence of up to 6 months in prison. Fortunately the new law also makes voyeurism an offence so we can hope that police officers who get their kicks from loitering around trying to catch people would also be prosecuted.

From 1 May 2004, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, some men, convicted in the past of consensual sex with a man aged 16 or 17, remain on the sex offenders' register for activity which is either no longer a crime, or, if it is, no longer triggers the registration requirement. These men can now apply to be removed from the register and should be informed by letter by the police of their right to do so.

For further details and an application form, applicants should contact:
The Schedule 4 Team,
Criminal Law Policy Unit,
Home Office,
50 Queen Anne's Gate,
London SW1H 9AT,
tel: 020 7273 4670,
fax: 020 7273 4345,

More information on how requests to be removed from the register can be found in the relevant Home Office Circular