The 40th anniversary of a key European Court of Human Rights case that led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality – a turning point for LGBTI persons

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10/22/21

The fight for LGBTI persons to enjoy their human rights has not been an easy one. 40 years ago today, Jeffrey Dudgeon found justice at the European Court of Human Rights, after facing police raids, intrusive interrogation about his sexual activities and the confiscation of his personal letters and diaries at a time when consensual same-sex relationships were still criminalised in Northern Ireland. Back in 1981, the Strasbourg Court was the first international body to rule that laws criminalising sexual orientation violate human rights, namely the right to respect for private and family life. Its ground-breaking judgment led to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland, the United Kingdom and Europe at large, recognising the human rights to millions of people. To mark the 40th anniversary of the case, and celebrate the man behind it, we asked Jeffrey Dudgeon to share the first-hand account of his fight for justice in this short feature film. In 1976, Jeffrey Dudgeon lodged an application with the European Commission of Human Rights complaining about the total prohibition of male homosexual acts in Northern Ireland, enforced through a law regulating all acts of buggery and gross indecency between males. This law provided the basis for police raids on the homes of gay men, who were subjected to extensive investigation and the threat of prosecution. Jeffrey had been questioned about his sexual activities by the police, who had also taken and kept diaries and personal correspondence from his home. In 1977, he was informed that a decision had been taken not to prosecute and the papers taken from him by the police were returned. Jeffrey complained that the law prohibiting male sexual acts had a “chilling or restraining effect on the free expression of his sexuality”.

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