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
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
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
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
A summary of the current
state of the law regarding SM can be found on the Trust's web site
under Legal Advice.
text of the Trust's submission can be seen on the Trust's web
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
50 Queen Anne's Gate