Prosecutions of gays over 18 'all but abandoned'

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Indy Politics
PROSECUTING authorities have all but abandoned pursuing cases of consensual homosexual acts involving men aged 18-21 except where exploitation, corruption or breach of trust is involved, writes Patricia Wynn Davies.

The disclosure coincides with the tabling of a Criminal Justice Bill amendment calling for a common age of consent of 17 to replace 21 for homosexuals and 16 for heterosexuals.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, a Scottish Office minister, has revealed in a Commons answer to Norman Godman, Labour MP for Greenock & Port Glasgow, that the policy was begun by the Lord Advocate in Scotland in December 1991.

It is the first official confirmation that prosecutions are largely confined to abuses of position by, for example, teachers or care workers. It also shows the legislature lagging far behind actual practice laid down by executive action. It will disturb those MPs determined to stick to 21 as the age of consent for homosexuals in the Commons free vote fixed yesterday for Monday week.

In England and Wales the Crown Prosecution Service is understood to operate a similar policy. Crown prosecutors are directed under their Code, when considering whether it is in the public interest to prosecute, to 'take into account each person's age, the relative ages of participants and whether there was any element of seduction or corruption . . .'

MPs will be presented with up to three options on changing the law - Edwina Currie's amendment for a common age of 16, a clause replacing 21 with 18 for homosexuals in the name of Sir Anthony Durant, Tory MP for Reading West, and, if selected, the new amendment tabled by Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman.

Mr Hughes's amendment, which is supported by Dr Godman, would seek to equalise the age of consent for heterosexuals and homosexuals at 17, like in the Republic of Ireland, while increasing by a year the age at which young people can marry without their parents' permission.

Mr Hughes said yesterday that he would seriously pursue the amendment, which was likely to collect Conservative sponsors.

He said: 'Young people cannot leave school until the end of the term after their sixteenth birthday. To give adult rights when they are still under authority is a contradiction.'