UK Law: Public Sex and Nudity

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8th September

Sex on the Beach...

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Is it legal in the UK?
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From Here to Eternity Two Britons have appeared in court in Dubai after allegedly having sex on a beach in the Muslim emirate. What would happen if a couple got frisky on a beach in the UK?

The Sexual Offences Act 2003, which mainly covers England and Wales but also covers Northern Ireland in some areas, does not specifically legislate against sex on the beach so long as the act is consensual, says a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman.

Effectively sex on the beach in isolated places is allowed, so long as there is a reasonable expectation of privacy - which someone engaging in such an activity would be expected to prove. But someone could be charged with outraging public decency under common law, she says, if it is proven that at least one person has seen the act.

The witness has to see the act of intimacy first-hand. CCTV does not count, says travel lawyer Philip Banks, of the firm Irwin Mitchell.

Section 66 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 - which bans exposing one's genitals if the intention is to cause alarm or distress - can also be applied in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Although the act does not fully apply in Scotland, indecent exposure is an offence under common law, says a spokesman for the Law Society of Scotland, although intent would be difficult to prove. The same expectation of privacy applies north of the border, although there could be a breach of the peace if someone saw and was offended.

Another thing to bear in mind is that getting frisky on the beach in the presence of a child is a criminal offence under section 11 of the act, says the Ministry of Justice spokeswoman.

And a person can also be charged if they use words, behaviour or display to cause another person harassment, alarm or distress under sections four and five of the Public Order Act 1986.

But both of these offences only apply if the couple intend to cause alarm, or are aware that a child is watching, says Banks: These legislations are very unlikely to be used in this context.

It is rare for an amorous couple to appear in court, says criminal lawyer Mark Haslam, of BCL Burton Copeland. If police do spot a couple engaging in al fresco love making, they are more likely to issue a caution or warning.

But if it is reported by a passing - and outraged - member of the public, the couple are likely to be prosecuted and would probably be fined, with the case reported gleefully in the local press, says Banks.


1st March

Naturism and Public Nudity...

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British Naturism logo First of all there is no such general offence as 'indecent exposure'.

There is an offence of 'Exposure' but the name is misleading. It is actually 'Aggressive Exposure'. It was very carefully worded so that it could not be applied to naturists. The important point is that there must be intent to cause fear, alarm or distress. The defining judgment states that 'outraging is a very strong word' and that the behaviour must go well beyond merely offensive. The offence must be in a public place but the definition of public place is rather technical.

There are no specific prohibitions of nudity. The Victorian statutes have all been repealed. Also the enabling power for councils to make bye laws regulating the decency of swim suits has been repealed to ... protect naturists from busy body ... councillors.

Public Order legislation is sometimes used against naturists. The old favourite of police and authorities when they want to make up the law as they go along is section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. But when the victim refuses to be bullied, the prosecution finds it difficult to obtain convictions.

Another police favourite is to drag up the ludicrously old law, the 1824 Vagrancy Act, which makes it illegal to expose the male person.


14th November

Outraging Public Decency...

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Brace positionSingapore Airlines, whose new Airbus A380 contains private suites with double beds, recently warned its passengers not to join the mile high club, as the suites aren’t soundproof. In English law, cases have periodically arisen from the unusual locations in which sex has been practised — including on planes.

In March 2000, a charge of "outraging public decency" followed an incident in which Mrs Amanda Holt was alleged to have performed oral sex on Mr David Machin, whom she’d just met, during the middle of a transatlantic flight. Passengers were upset by the loud moaning and squealing noises, while one passenger was kicked in the head when the liaison reached a pitch of excitement.

The charge, however, was eventually dropped and they were convicted of being drunk on a plane contrary to Air Navigation Order 2000, SI 2000/1562, art 65(1), and fined a total of £2,500.

The offence of “outraging public decency” arose from the historic role of the courts as protectors of public morality. For a conviction, it must be proved that something was of a "lewd, obscene or disgusting nature". Since 1663, this has included a variety of sexual conduct outside the bedroom, including a schoolmaster "behaving in an indecent manner with a desk" in front of two boys.

In 2006, Keith Rose was convicted of outraging public decency after he was caught on CCTV at night having oral sex with his girlfriend in the foyer of a Lloyds TSB bank in Sheffield. There were no witnesses but the branch manager saw the film the next day. Quashing the conviction on appeal, however, Mr Justice Burnton said it wasn’t enough that someone saw the event on film afterwards. There had been “no act which actually outraged public decency since there had been no public to outrage”.

Other cases have hinged whether sexual activity could physically have been performed in particular locations.

In one case in 1836, it was necessary to judge whether it was physically possible for Tommy Taylor, a wealthy lawyer, and a Mrs Mellin to have had intercourse on the 1ft 10in shelf of a wooden stile in a field near Wakefield. It was ruled that, on balance (so to speak) intercourse could have occurred on it.

And in a case in 1945, an adultery allegation turned on whether couple with a “long history of passionate intimacy” could have copulated “in a semi-recumbent position” on the front seat of a lorry parked outside Stockton-on-Tees. Mr Justice Wallington took the view, evidently relying on his own knowledge of the interior of lorry cabins, that intercourse wouldn’t have been possible.

But the Court of Appeal disagreed. The couple, it ruled, already knew their way round a sexual encounter so well, “there was no element of unfamiliarity or reluctance to contend with”. Just the handbrake and steering wheel. A seasoned divorce lawyer once noted that in his professional experience, sex was possible anywhere except on the ceiling.

The barrister Clifford Mortimer (father of Sir John Mortimer, QC) reported a surprise triumph in a divorce case: “Remarkable win today, old boy. Only evidence of adultery we had was a pair of footprints upside down on the dashboard of an Austin Seven parked in Hampstead Garden Suburb.”

In 1994, the actress Gillian Taylforth sued The Sun for libel. The newspaper had claimed she performed oral sex on her fiancé in a car parked on a sliproad to the A1 near London. When a police officer appeared at the car window, Ms Taylforth had said she was merely providing her fiancé with “abdominal relief” for an acute attack of pancreatitis.

During the libel trial, the entire court moved out to the car park to watch reconstructions of the alleged sexual act in the front of a Range Rover — first with, then without, a seat belt being worn. In testimony, Ms Taylforth presented herself as a sexually reserved character. But during the trial a film was sent to the newspaper’s advocate showing her at a party simulating masturbation with a wine bottle and using a sausage as a prop while boasting “I give very good head.” The film was shown as evidence midway through the trial, and Ms Taylforth lost her case.

Overall, the law’s stance on sex is much the same as that of the Edwardian actress Mrs Patrick Campbell, who said that “it doesn’t matter what you do in the bedroom as long as you don’t do it in the street and frighten the horses”. 

UK Law
 Law for Webmasters and Bloggers Sub judice, jurisdiction and liability
 Slander, Libel & Defamation particularly as regards to internet content
 Video Recordings Act Re-enacted in 2010
 Possession of Pornography including dangerous pictures and dangerous drawings
 Obscene Publications Governing publications in print and on the internet
 Indecent Displays Act 1981 with subsequent amendments
 Proscription of Satellite Channels Used by the Government to ban channels
 Sexual Offences Act 2003 Issues for 16 & 17 year olds
 Prostitution From the point of view of the customer
 Lap-dancing and Licensing Law Now classed as a sex encounter venue
 Sex Shop Licensing What powers do local authorities have over sex shops
 BSDM Is it legal?
 Public Sex and Public Nudity Is it legal?
 Human Rights Incorporating the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law
 Hatred Law Blasphemy, gay, racial & religious hatred
 Street Photography Is it legal?
 Communications Law RIPA: State spying in Britain that would make the Stasi proud


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