Today, Friday, 5th March, the Court of Appeal dismissed Terry Connell’s appeal against sentence for consensual gay sex in private: behaviour that would be legal elsewhere in Europe. If he were heterosexual, he would never even have been charged.
The Court sat at 10:30 to hear Terry Munyard QC explain that this was a ‘victimless crime’, where all the participants were willing and no one was corrupted; that the sex took place in private behind closed doors, where no one was outraged or offended; that the video was not made for commercial purposes; and that the British Government has effectively abandoned its case against Euan Sutherland, recognising that, since current legislation breaches the European Convention on Human Rights, the law must and will change.
[The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, shortly to be debated in the House of Lords, is a direct consequence of this.]
Lord Justice Mantell interrupted Mr. Munyard at one point to state categorically that Connell’s work as a gay activist did not count against him, since campaigning for the law to be changed “never could be a matter for complaint”.
The Court rose at 10:45. Three minutes later, after full consideration and due deliberation, the Appeal Judges returned with their typed ruling, which was read by Lord Justice Douglas Brown. They found that, under the existing law, “the learned judge” (Michael Lever) was entirely correct in imposing nine months’ imprisonment: though, in regard to the “special circumstances” of the case (as outlined by Terry Munyard), he had suspended this for two years.
Mr. Munyard commented afterwards: “The attitude of the Court to what they know is a violation of the European Convention is absolutely grotesque”.
Connell, undismayed by today’s ruling, is determined to take his appeal to Europe. “The prejudice shown to gay people in this country is akin to the prejudice shown to black people in America in the 60’s”, he said. “Although we will never be fully rid of racism or homophobia, the powers that be should be doing more to promote equality. The fight goes on.”
Connell was accompanied today by a number of friends, together with campaigners from OutRage! and CHE. John Hunt of OutRage! explained: “Nine months in prison (albeit suspended) seems out of all proportion for a blow-job in any circumstances. It is a bitter blow to have the sentence confirmed today: and, as counsel stated, it is a serious breach of the fundamental human right to equal treatment.
“Last year’s prosecution alone cost £ ½ million; and the costs of the appeal have not yet been calculated. How paranoid are the authorities in this benighted country that they spend hand over fist to persecute peaceful citizens? Terry is to be commended in his resolve to continue fighting injustice. We will continue to support his appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, (which ruled in October 1997 that Britain’s unequal age of consent is unlawful).”
[Only on Monday the European Court found prima facie evidence of breaches by the MoD of Articles 3 (torture and degrading treatment), Article 8 (Privacy) and Articles 12 and 14 (right to enjoy rights without discrimination!) in its treatment of lesbian and gay personnel. It is to be expected that they will find similarly in this case.]