The Sodomy Offence: England's Least Lovely Criminal Law Export?
This article describes the influence of the British Empire on the intercontinental spread of the criminal offences involving adult, private, consensual same-sex activity.
It describes the origins of the crimes in Judeo-Christian scriptures and early English common law and statutory offences. The nineteenth century moves for criminal law codification in Europe succeeded in abolishing such offences. They were not a feature of other European empires. However, although codification of the criminal law failed in England, five template codes exported the sodomy and other like offences to every land ruled by Britain. In 41 of the 54 Commonwealth countries, the offences remain in force. The article describes how they were (often reluctantly) repealed by legislation between 1967 and 1997 in the older dominions. Repeal in newer Commonwealth countries has been slow or non-existent. The author describes new developments that give hope for progress, including the Naz Foundation case in India (2009) and the recent moves in the United Nations and elsewhere to foster legislative and judicial removal of this unlovely legacy of Empire.
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