The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland consists of four countries forming three distinct jurisdictions each having its own court system and legal profession: England & Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom was established in 1701 with the union of Great Britain and Ireland, but only achieved its present form in 1922 with the partition of Ireland and the establishment of the Republic of Ireland. The UK joined the European Union in 1973, since when it has been a requirement to incorporate European legislation into UK law, and to recognise the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in matters of EU law. The UK is a signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights, which has been incorporated into UK law with the passing of the Human Rights Act 1998. There is no written constitution. The Queen is the Head of State, although in practice the supreme authority of the Crown is carried by the government of the day. The constitutional law of the UK is regarded as compound of constitutional statutes, caselaw and constitutional conventions.1
Sections 61 and 62 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 criminalised homosexuality and prosecutions under the law were often haphazard and sporadic. In the mid 1950’s there were a number of arrests of prominent homosexual men.
Equality is protected before the law in a variety of different Common law statutes.
The 2010 Equality Act replaces previous anti-discrimination laws protects women, sexual orientation and transgender equality.2 The Right to Equal Treatment is also protected under Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights.
There have been a number of pieces of legislation in the UK advancing LGBT rights significant legal developments include;
In Smith and Grady v UK the ECHR held that its policy of not allowing members of the LGBT community to serve in the military was incompatible with obligations under Article 8 of the ECHR. Currently members of the LGBT community are allowed to serve openly in the military and wear their uniforms of gay rights parades.3
The 2004 Civil Partnerships Act grants civil partnerships in the United Kingdom with rights and responsibilities identical to civil marriage.4
Stonewall are a key organisation campaigning and lobbying for LGBT rights. Some of their major successes include helping achieve the equalisation of the age of consent, lifting the ban on lesbians and gay men serving in the military, securing legislation allowing same-sex couples to adopt. More recently Stonewall has helped secure civil partnerships and ensured the recent Equality Act protected lesbians and gay men in terms of goods and services.5
The Peter Tatchell Foundation (PTF) has been active in campaigning to promote and protect the human rights of individuals, and more specifically the LGBT community, in accordance with the body of established national and international human rights law.6
The Wolfenden Report, published in 1957, recommended that homosexual behaviour in private between consenting adults be no longer classed as a crime.7
The 1967 Sexual Offences Act8 under section 1 stated that a homosexual act in private between two consenting adults having attained the age of 21 years shall not be an offence. However an act will be not deemed to have been private if more than two persons are present or the location is where the public have access to. In 1994 the age of consent was lowered to 18 and in 2001 it was lowered to 16 in line with age of consent for heterosexuals.
The provisions of the 1967 Act were not extended to Northern Ireland or Scotland. In Dudgeon v the United Kingdom the European Court of Human Rights held that criminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults was a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects "private" and "family" life.9
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