September 4th 1957 (from BBC Archives and National Archives)
The Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (better known as the Wolfenden report, after Lord Wolfenden, the chairman of the committee) was published in Britain on 4 September 1957 after a succession of well-known men, including Lord Montagu, Michael Pitt-Rivers and Peter Wildeblood, were convicted of homosexual offences.
Homosexuality ‘should not be a crime’
A report sponsored by the government has suggested homosexual behaviour between consenting adults should no longer be a criminal offence.
The proposal is the principal and most controversial recommendation put forward by the 13-member committee chaired by Sir John Wolfenden, Vice-Chancellor of Reading University, investigating the current law on homosexuality and prostitution.
The first print of 5,000 copies of the 155-page “Report on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution” – known as the Wolfenden report – sold out within hours of publication.
After its three-year long inquiry, the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution in Great Britain came to the conclusion that outlawing homosexuality impinged upon civil liberties.
It said society and the law should respect “individual freedom of actions in matters of private morality” and stressed it was neither condoning nor condemning homosexual acts.
Ultimately, private morality or immorality was “not the law’s business”.
It defined “adult” as being a person over the age of 21 and that such acts should be decriminalised only if they took place “in private” and with consent.
Under the current law at the time, various homosexual offences can incur, anything from a £5 fine to life imprisonment. The Wolfenden committee included three women, judges, doctors, MPs, lawyers and ministers of religion.
Only one expressed his reservation on relaxing the law on homosexuality – James Adair, formerly Procurator- General at Glasgow. He believed it would be regarded by many homosexuals as “condoning or licensing licentiousness”.
But the government rejected the proposal. Homosexual men would have to wait another ten years, 1967, before the law permitted sexual relations between adults over the age of 21 – “in private”. However, conspiracy to commit or assist homosexual acts remained an offence.