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The BBC's Jane Peel
"It will make it harder for a defendant to argue the woman agreed to sex"
 real 56k

Wednesday, 26 July, 2000, 18:29 GMT 19:29 UK
Blueprint for sex law reforms

Laws banning gay kissing in public are set to be scrapped
A radical blueprint for the overhaul of the law on sexual offences has been published.

The review, published by the Home Office, aims to see an increase in the number of convictions for rape, as well as reforming the laws on incest to cover step-parents.

If the report, Setting the Boundaries, is taken up by the government the offence of indecent exposure could also be dropped, while homosexual displays of public affection could be decriminalised.

The government has yet to accept any of the report's recommendations.

Clarifying consent

Changes to the laws governing rape set out in the report would make it much harder for defendants to claim they genuinely believed that their "victim" had consented to sex.

They would have to prove that they had taken "reasonable steps" to ensure sex was consensual.

The definition of rape could also be extended to include oral sex.

But there are no plans to bring in a new offence of date rape.

The author of the report, Betty Moxon, said: "It was clearly the hope of the review that by clarifying the meaning of consent, particularly for juries, that they would find the decision-making process more straight forward."

Home Office Minister Charles Clarke said: "That will, of itself I would hope, increase the rate of conviction."

Tougher sentences for burglary with intent to rape and the penalty for drugging someone with intent to rape are both to be increased dramatically.

Indecent assault would be abolished, in favour of a new offence of sexual assault by non-penile penetration, which would carry a maximum sentence of life.

De-criminalising public gay sex

Turning to gay sex, the report says: "A man and a man - or a woman and a woman - kissing and holding hands in public should no more be criminalised than a man and a woman behaving in the same way."

It added gay sex in public would also be decriminalised in cases where those taking part had no reason to think a third person would see them or be distressed by their activities.

Angela Mason, of gay rights group Stonewall, said it was right that there should be laws dealing with sexual activity in public, but there was no reason why homosexuals should be treated any differently from heterosexuals.

Conservative Leader of the Lords Baroness Young pledged to oppose the plans.

"We have had gay sex lessons proposed and now it is gay sex on the streets," her spokesman said.

Protecting children

The report also seeks to bring clarity to the laws regarding sex and children.

It calls for new legislation carrying a potential life sentence for any adult convicted of sexually abusing a child under the age of 13.

While those found guilty of abusing a child aged 13 to 16 would face up to 10 years in jail.

Offenders aged 16 to 18 having sex with a child of 13 could face a maximum five-year sentence.

While adults could face up to a decade behind bars for performing a sex act towards a child or making them witness a sex act.

'Modern context'

Incest laws may also be placed in a "modern context".

It would extend the ban on sex between blood relations to cover step relatives, adoptive or foster families and any adult in a position of authority in a household and the children living there.

Most of the existing laws date from an 1885 act of Parliament, and since then only a handful of changes have been made.

Reform is also being made necessary to bring the law into line with the European Convention on Human Rights, which is due to be incorporated into UK law in October.

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See also:

25 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Section 28: An overview
25 Jul 00 | UK Politics
Ministers back down on gay ban
21 Jul 00 | UK
Sex and the city council
19 May 00 | UK Politics
Sex laws to be reformed
17 May 00 | UK
The date rape menace
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