The Attorney General in The House of Commons
The legal position with regard to contact ads was clarified in a Commons adjournment debate on August 2:
“Prosecutors must carry out their duty. It is their duty to enforce the law,” Sir Peter Rawlinson, the Attorney General, spelled it out. “Prosecutors do not make the law. Very many people are very alive to any failure by the prosecution to enforce the law.
“But accordingly, if people produce advertisements by males or by females advertising their wares, calling for partners, reciting the terms upon which they will associate, describing their particular tastes or giving ways of communicating one with another, these at present are offences against the criminal law.”
Gay News wonders how this relates to lonely hearts ads in magazines like Time Out, and still more to the computer dating firms – what about the ads on the tube trains?
Referring to the International Times case in 1969, Sir Peter said “…the then Attorney General had to consider advertisements by males, the kind of advertisement that contained wording such as ‘Dolly Boy Seeks Sugar Daddy’ and so on. The then Attorney General”…had discussions with the Director of Public Prosecutions and a prosecution was launched because it was held, and the courts affirmed, that publication of these male advertisements was on all fours with the Shaw case, which involved advertisements for female prostitutes.”
This was the celebrated Ladies’ Directory case in 1960, when a man called Shaw published a guide, with addresses and telephone numbers, in which Soho prostitutes bought space. He was convicted and Lord Simonds, giving judgement, said: “In the sphere of criminal law there remains in the Courts of Law a residual power to enforce the supreme and fundemental purpose of the law, to conserve not only the safety and order but also the moral welfare of the state, and it is our duty to guard it against attacks which might be all the more insidious because they are novel and unprepared for.”
Lord Reid, however dissented “There are wide differences of opinion as to how far the law ought to punish immoral acts which are not done in the face of the public. Parliament is the proper, and the only proper, place to settle that. Where Parliament fears to tread, it is not for the Courts to rush in…”
The noble Lord Reid has received a lot of support for this statement (see ‘Half A Loaf’ story in Gay News No.3), but Lord Simonds asked another question which forecast the I.T. case: “Would it not be an offence if, even without obscenity, such practices were publicly advocated and encouraged by pamphlet and advertisement.”
Some people, including the police and, apparently, the DPP’s department, seem to support Lord Simonds, as recent victimisation shows.
These statements were quoted by Mr William Hamling, MP (Woolwich West) who raised the matter in the House. Mr Hamling is a brave and trusted watchdog for the freedom of the press and the arts, and a witty attacker upon those who whitehouse (verb.act.).
Mr.Hamling went on to refer to the Attorney General’s reply to a Bernard Levin article in the Times, on the question of the assurances given in Parliament when the Sexual Offences bill was being discussed. “The Attorney General’s statement refers to assurances given in 1964, that publishers would not be prevented from pleading the defence of public good when charged with publishing an obscene article. The assurances given did not apply where the essence of the offence was incitement to commit homosexual acts rather than the publication of an obscene article
“… I should like to direct his (the A.G.) attention to the debate in another place when Baroness Wootton (proposing a Lord’s amendment to the Sexual Offences Bill) moved a new clause specifically on this matter of conspiracy. The new clause read: ‘Conspiracy. It shall not be an offence to conspire or attempt to commit a homosexual act which by virtue of this Act (the 1967 Act) not in itself an offence.’
“The noble Lady went on specifically to refer to the Ladies Directory case and said:
‘We are still a little disturbed by the possible consequences of the Ladies Directory case, and the words used in that case … (she quoted Lord Simonds, as above)… (he) is there referring to conspiracy in a rather wider sense than my amendment, which refers only to the conspiracy to perform the act as distinct from advertising or flaunting it.”
Lord Stoneham, replying to Baroness Wootton, gave some assurances, but Mr Hamling, and others, have doubts as to what these actually meant, and the point is crucial to our freedom. Mr Hamling: “This prosecution (I.T.) and this whole question of what assurances were given raise some very great difficulties about an Act which permits things to take place which some people may consider to be immoral or offensive in the deepest sense, and yet the law says that these acts arc legal and are permitted. The question arises as to how far reference to these acts may be regarded as a public affront. There are grave difficulties about this – about homosexuals meeting, about arrangements that homosexuals may make in order to meet, particularly bearing in mind other sexual acts between heterosexuals which may follow meetings which can be advertised and which nobody seems to worry much about.”
Well set out out, Mr Hamling! Sir Peter, concluding his reply, set out the opposing view equally clearly; “(The I.T.case) was a proper case under the criminal law, as I explained in the Shaw case … the jury convicted, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and the House of Lords upheld the conviction by four to one. There was in that case exactly what existed in the Shaw case, a public affront, namely the publication of advertisements by the persons seeking particular sexual services – in the Shaw case involving women and in the International Times case involving men.
”… I repeat, finally, that this being the law, it is the duty of the DPP, the police authorities and the Attorney General of the day to enforce the law as it is interpreted by the judges. It is their duty to see that that is done, and they must not be dissuaded from that because it may be the opinion of certain persons that the law ought to be changed.”
Not so much changed, as disregarded perhaps. I make no apology tor setting out the debate at such length – if we are to act constructively, we must be informed fully of the attitudes of the opposition.
It still seems, as Raymond Fletcher said on an earlier occasion, that the judges are trying to make the laws, whatever Sir Peter Rawlinson says about the omniscience of Parliament. We must note too, the equation of homosexual activities with prostitution (remember the Dangerous Doctor Rubens?), and the assumptions being made that all homosexual contact ads are for prostitution, while heterosexuals are not subjected to any such blanket condemnation.