Gay group sex ban to be challenged in Euro court

A homosexual man who was prosecuted for having group sex in his own home is to take the Government to the European Court of Human Rights.

The man, who does not wish to be identified, was convicted of gross indecency by magistrates a few months ago. The sexual activity on which the case was based took place between five men in their thirties and forties.

The man in question was arrested after police searched his house during an unrelated investigation and seized a home video that he had made for personal consumption.

Under the 1967 legislation that decriminalised homosexuality, consensual sex between gay men is legal if they are over the age of consent, now 18, and if it takes place in private. However, "privacy" is defined as there being no more than two men present.

Gross indecency covers any unlawful sexual contact between men, and is the classical offence used to prosecute homosexual men who have sex in public toilets or parks.

The man, who was in his forties, has lodged an application with the Strasbourg court, claiming a breach of his right to privacy under Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention. He is also claiming sex discrimination under Article 14 since gross indecency is an offence that applies only to gay men.

Heterosexuals or lesbians can legally have group sex in private.

Lawyers believe that the man has a very strong case, and say that a ruling in his favour could force the Government to repeal the 19th century offence of gross indecency.

Ben Emmerson, his barrister, said: "The law will always regulate behaviour that is truly public and is offensive to others."

He added that gay men could be prosecuted under the Public Order Act, the law that covers improper conduct in public by heterosexuals or lesbians.

Mr Emmerson said that the case, together with that of Euan Sutherland, another gay man, "spells the end of gross indecency on the statute books."

Mr Sutherland's case, for breach of privacy on the grounds of inequality in the age of consent laws, has already been ruled admissible by the Strasbourg Court.

Anya Palmer, deputy director of Stonewall, which campaigns for homosexual rights, said: "It is extraordinary to have a criminal offence that applies only to gay men. The same laws should apply to everyone."

The man said yesterday that he had taken part in "nothing other than harmless fun. There was no way that our activities could have caused offence."

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