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Spanner Trust makes submission to Home Office

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Trust makes Submission to Home Office Sex Offences Law Review - Setting the Boundaries - requesting they address legalising SM

The Spanner Trust has submitted proposals to a Home Office Review Board arguing that the current review of Sexual Offences legislation has to remedy the current discrimination in law experienced by those who participate in consensual sadomasochistic sexual activities.

In July 2000 the Home Office issued a consultation paper on reforming the law on sex offences and invited comments from the public and interested organisations. Whilst the review was comprehensive and thorough it purposefully ignored sadomasochism ('SM').

The primary objective of the Trust is to advocate and lobby for a change in the UK law with regard to consensual sadomasochistic activity. At present consent is no defence to a charge of assault if injuries, which are more than transient and trifling, are caused during SM sex.

In its submission the Trust argues for a change in the law on the following grounds:

  • ·The use of the law to regulate consensual adult sexual relations where no serious injury is involved is an intrusion into those adults' privacy not warranted on grounds of harm, decency or public good.
  • Prosecutions since the original Spanner case in 1991 have treated heterosexual and homosexual SM activity differently even when the activities themselves were identical. Such discrimination is incompatible with the Human Rights Act.
  • SM is a valid form of human sexual expression and any review of sexual offences would be incomplete if it ignored its current legal status.

The Trust proposes that: -

  • Sadomasochism be recognised as a sexual activity which may involve injury;
  • The Law Commission's proposals for the definitions of consent and capacity to consent as laid out in "Consent in Sex Offences" should be adopted;
  • A clause be added to any future Sex Offences Bill which decriminalises SM which does not cause serious injury, whilst continuing the prohibition of activities which cause serious injury.


The Spanner Trust was set up in 1995 in the wake of the Spanner case in which sixteen gay men were given prison sentences, some suspended, and others fined for engaging in consensual SM sex. This followed a police investigation called 'Operation Spanner' prompted by the chance finding of a videotape of SM activities. The videotape showed a number of identifiable men engaging in heavy SM activities including beatings, genital abrasions and lacerations, although none of the men suffered injuries requiring medical attention.

The evidence against the men comprised the videotape and their own statements. When questioned by the police, the men were so confident that their activities were lawful (because they had consented to them) that they freely admitted to taking part in the activities on the video. Without these statements and the videotape, the police would have had no evidence to present against the men and would have found it impossible to bring any prosecutions.

For the most part, the men were convicted of the standard offence of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. Their defence, that they had all consented to the activities, was denied. Some of the defendants appealed their convictions both to the Court of Appeal and Law Lords in UK and to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, but their convictions were upheld.

A summary of the current state of the law regarding SM can be found on the Trust's web site under Legal Advice.

The full text of the Trust's submission can be seen on the Trust's web site

The Trust hopes that both concerned individuals and organisations involved in Civil Liberties and Sexual Discrimination will support the Trust's position by writing to the Home Office as soon as possible at the following addresses:

Sex Offences Review
Sentencing & Offences Unit
Home Office
50 Queen Anne's Gate

Tel: 020-7273-3443

The Spanner Trust always tries to ensure that all information provided is accurate and up-to-date. However, the law can change and is open to interpretation. Before relying upon any statement made by the Spanner Trust you should take your own independent legal advice and the Spanner Trust cannot accept any liability whatsoever.