No. 4 of #50cases.
Our Parliament decriminalised homosexuality in 1967– but only in England and Wales. Homosexual acts remained criminalised in Scotland and Northern Ireland until 1981 and 1982, respectively, but only after landmark rulings changed the face of gay rights in Europe.
Jeffrey Dudgeon was a shipping clerk and gay activist in Belfast, Northern Ireland. In 1975, police came to his house to conduct a search. Police officers proceeded to comb through Dudgeon’s diary entries and personal documents, which contained descriptions of his homosexual activities. The next day, on the basis of these descriptions, police interrogated Dudgeon for four and a half hours on his sexual activity – a distressing intrusion into Dudgeon’s private life, which caused him great harm.
As a result, he filed a complaint which was then passed on to the European Court of Human Rights. In 1981, Dudgeon was vindicated: the Court ruled that Northern Ireland’s criminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults violated his right to respect for his private and family life, as guaranteed by the European Convention of Human Rights.
Dudgeon’s case 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. Most recently, Dudgeon v. United Kingdom was cited in the US Supreme Court’s ruling in 2003, finding 14 US states’ criminalisation of homosexual acts to be unconstitutional.