Birmingham Post reports Wolfenden 1957
The following article reports on the publication of the Wolfenden Report
Birmingham Post & Birmingham Gazette Thursday September 5th 1957
VICE REPORT MAY BRING COMMONS CLASH
New Law Suggested on Homosexuality
By our Parliamentary Correspondent PETER MIDFORTH
The Wolfenden Report, published yesterday, proposes that homosexual conduct between consenting adults, in private, should be removed from the scope of criminal law.
Parliament and the government are certain to be chary about accepting in their entirety changes in the law recommended by the committee, The report also deals with prostitutes.
Bitter controversy can be expected, particularly should the government decide to support exclusion of adult homosexuality from the criminal law.
The government and the Commons, will accept more readily the recommendations for cleaning up the streets of the West End of London, and of the big industrial cities most seriously affected, by the increasing substantially the penalties for soliciting by women.
The committee was appointed three years ago. Its chairman was Sir John Wolfenden, Vice Chancellor of Reading University and a former headmaster of Shrewsbury and Uppingham. Among the committee’s fifteen members were three women, Mts. Mary G. Cohen, Mrs Catherine Lovibond and Lady Stopford.
Evidence was given before the committee by several male homosexuals. Though these witnesses were obviously articulate, and able to discuss their condition in a lucid way, the committee’s report emphasises that, in spite of a widely held belief to the contrary, homosexuality is not peculiar to members of particular professions or social classes, nor as is sometimes supposed, is it peculiar to the intelligentsia.
Attempts were also made to take evidence from prostitutes. These promised to be successful but, at the last moment, the women intimated that they had changed their minds and preferred not to appear before the committee.
Only one member of the committee, Mr. James Adair, disagrees with the proposed change in the law that would take homosexual acts committed in private by consenting adults out of the realm of the criminal code. Mr. Adair dissociates himself from this recommendation.
He states “Existing homosexual trends and tendencies are currently the cause of much public concern and disgust, and the case for relaxing legal restrictions does not appear to me a compelling one.”
The report, in rejecting the argument for retaining the existing law on sexual behaviour, stresses the importance which society and the law ought to give to individuals freedom of choice and action in matters of private morality.
It says unless a deliberate attempt is to be made by society, through the law, to equate crime with sin, there must remain a realm of private morality and immorality “which is, in brief and crude terms, not the laws business.”
It is conceded that the proposed change in the law though “just and equitable” might have “awkward consequences” in the continued prosecution of offenders under 21.
Therefore that the prosecution of minors for homosexual activities with a consenting partner in private should only take place on the authority of the Director of Public Prosecutions, or with the consent of the Attorney-General, and in circumstances where the alleged offence has been accompanied by conduct of a patently criminal or vicious nature, or where it appears that the offender would benefit from being placed under treatment or supervision.
Criticism is made in the report of variations in police practice in prosecuting homosexuals. It points out that in some parts of the country proceedings are not initiated unless there has been a complaint, or the offence has been brought to the notice of the police in some other way, while in some areas a firm effort is made to apply to full rigour of the law as it stands.
The committee condemns the pursuit of “stale offences” and suggests that the prosecution of any homosexual offence more than 12 months old should be statute-barred.
Commenting on proposals for increasing the maximum penalty for homosexual behaviour with a young person, the committee says that such a charge might serve, in some measure, to protect the young from the undesirable attentions of older men.
No change is proposed in the penalties for importuning by males. Recent figures relating to this type of offence suggest that, outside London, this particular problem is confined to a few large towns, including Birmingham.
“It is important” the report says “that the limited modification of the law which we propose should not be interpreted as an indication that the law can be indifferent to other forms of homosexual behaviour or as a general license to allow homosexuals to behave as they please.”
Contributed by: Birmingham Post