How A Man Called Jeffrey Dudgeon Changed The Law On Homosexuality - RightsInfo

How A Man Called Jeffrey Dudgeon Changed The Law On Homosexuality

This week, the government announced that it would support what is being called ‘Turing’s Law’. The law will pardon gay and bisexual men convicted for consensual homosexual acts in the past.  They were caught under the offence of ‘gross indecency,’ the law used to convict and imprison Oscar Wilde amongst many thousands of others.

One man affected by that law was Jeffrey Dudgeon, a Northern Irish politician, historian and gay political activist.  35 years ago tomorrow, he took his country to court for treating him like a criminal, because he was gay.  He won.  See here for the full story.

Private and family life


On 22 October 1981, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Northern Ireland’s criminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults violated the human right to respect for his private and family life.  Read our post on why the right to privacy matters here.

Homosexual acts had ceased to be a criminal offence in 1967 in England and Wales, but not in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

No. 4 in Top 50 cases


This case is no. 4 of our Top 50 cases that transformed Britain because it represents much more than one man’s fight: it directly paved the way for Northern Ireland’s decriminalisation of homosexual acts in 1982, and also set a landmark legal precedent which has been used time and again to defend gay rights across Europe.

As part of the 2012 New Year Honours List, Jeffrey Dudgeon was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for “services to the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community in Northern Ireland”.

Fighting for human rights


The case demonstrates the impact individuals can have when they are prepared to fight injustice and discrimination through the courts. Take a look at the rest of our Top 50 cases here to see other examples of ordinary people standing up for their human rights.

When Jeffrey Dudgeon’s private life was invaded by the police in 1976, he had no right to bring his case against the government through the courts of his own country.  Since the introduction of the Human Rights Act 1998, everyone has the right to bring a claim in the courts of this country, if they believe their human rights have been violated.  Read our plain English post on how the Human Rights Act 1998 works here.

Being gay is not a crime….or is it?


Well, not in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern leland, anymore.  But it is a crime in other countries.  Some countries still carry the death penalty for being gay.  So, the fight for LGBTQI equality continues and human rights play a central part in that fight.

For more information:

  • Read our news story on Turing’s Law ‘Thousands Of Convicted Gay Men To Be Pardoned, Even If They Are Dead’ here.
  • Read our Feature on A Brief History Of Homophobia here.
  • Check out 5 Times Human Rights Conquered Homophobic Laws here.
  • Take a break here with our post What Was The ‘Gay Cake’ Case All About?
  • Read about another anniversary hereThe Human Right Not To Hide. Celebrating The Anniversary Of A Landmark LGBTQ Case
Image of Jeffrey Dudgeon © Belfast Telegraph. Other images courtesy of





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About the Author

Katie Jukes

Site Editor
Katie Jukes is a Senior Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University in the Law department. She is a passionate believer in the protection of human rights and in communicating accurate, comprehensive information on human rights to the public. View all posts by Katie Jukes.
How A Man Called Jeffrey Dudgeon Changed The Law On Homosexuality
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