Sado-masochistic sex 'should be legal'

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The Independent Online
Adults should be given immunity from prosecution for sado-masochistic sexual acts between consenting adults, the Government's legal advisers, the Law Commission, argues today.

A celebrated case, known as Operation Spanner, brought the issue to public attention when the police successfully prosecuted several men for acts of genital torture and violence to the anus, penis, testicles and nipples, where the victims had all been willing participants.

The House of Lords ruled by three to two that the conviction was correct, and the defendants have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights, which will hear the case next year.

The Law Commissioners became the centre of a furore when a Bill based on their recommendations on Family Homes and Domestic Violence came to the attention of Conservative backbenchers who feared it undermined family values, and had to be dropped. In a virulent campaign, the Daily Mail branded the commission a subversive body which should be abolished.

Partly because of that row, the commission - made up of expert barristers chaired by a judge - has taken the rare step of putting the latest issue, of when consent constitutes a defence to a criminal act, to a second period of consultation which will last until next June.

The commission's paper also reviews the law of consent relating to other areas such as ritual circumcision, cosmetic piercing, tattooing, dangerous sports and martial arts. It recommends that "adults should generally be entitled to make choices for themselves". But it says there should be special rules for the young and the mentally disabled.

8 Consent and the Criminal Law, Law Commission Consultation Paper 139, HMSO pounds 21.