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Man persecuted for his sexuality wins landmark judgment – transforming the law in Northern Ireland and beyond

Dudgeon v. the United Kingdom  | 1981

Man persecuted for his sexuality wins landmark judgment – transforming the law in Northern Ireland and beyond

The actual fear level was enormous … It was a crime, that was the official government attitude.

Jeffrey Dudgeon, in the documentary ‘The Secret’s Out’ by Northern Visions - © Photo Jeffrey Dudgeon

Background

In the early 1980s, homosexuality was still a crime in Northern Ireland.

Jeffrey Dudgeon had known that he was homosexual since the age of 14. He experienced fear of harassment, blackmail, suffering and psychological distress.

One day, Jeffrey’s house was raided by police, who confiscated his letters and diaries. Jeffrey was brought into a police station, where he was interrogated about his sexual life for four and a half hours. A year later, when his personal belongings were returned to him, the papers had annotations all over them.

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights

The Strasbourg court ruled that by criminalising homosexuality, Northern Ireland had violated people’s right to a private life.

He has experienced fear, suffering and psychological distress directly caused by the very existence of the laws in question …

Judgment of the European Court of Human Rights, October 1981 - © Photo Jeffrey Dudgeon

Follow-up

In 1982, Northern Ireland changed its criminal laws to legalise homosexual acts between consenting male adults.

The judgment was a test case, followed by many others at the European court. It led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in many European countries, providing freedom for millions of people.

See also: Norris v. Ireland and Modinos v. Cyprus


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