Judgement in Dudgeon Case - European Court of Human Rights

D3762_2_1_30 reduced.pdf

Dublin Core


Judgement in Dudgeon Case - European Court of Human Rights


Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, Decriminalisation, Homosexual Law Reform


Judgement of the European Court of Human Rights in the Dudgeon Case, Article 50 in both French and English

“In 1975, I lodged an application before the then European Commission of Human Rights complaining about the total prohibition of male homosexual acts in Northern Ireland. Those laws provided the basis for police raids on the homes of some 25 gay men in 1976 who were subjected to extensive investigation and the threat of prosecution. I was not charged, or convicted of an offence, but the police took all my diaries and correspondence. In 1977, a decision was made not to prosecute us and my papers, duly annotated, were returned. My complaint to Strasbourg on behalf of the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association was that the law prohibiting male sexual acts had a “chilling or restraining effect on the free expression of my sexuality” and breached my human rights under Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention.  
On 22 October 1981, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) upheld my complaint that criminalisation in Northern Ireland of homosexual acts between consenting adults amounted to an unjustified interference with the right to respect for private life as enshrined in Article 8 of the Convention.  
My case was just the fifteenth at the Court where a violation was found, only the thirty-fifth judged by the ECtHR and the fifth of any sort won against the UK. There have been many successful gay-related judgments since, some against the UK on the age of consent and gays in the military, not to mention the Irish follow-on case. Other wins have related to adoption, residency and gender reassignment but none have won over gay marriage (or on abortion).  
In October 1982, Westminster passed a NI Order in Council decriminalising sex between males over the age of 21. This was fifteen years after England and two years after Scotland had repealed their anti-gay laws. Ireland followed suit a decade later in 1993 as a result of David Norris’s 1988 victory in Strasbourg, a case based on my Northern Ireland precedent. 
PRONI document D3762/2/1/30 is the Article 50 judgment of the ECtHR on 21 February 1983 deciding my costs and damages.  
I had changed lawyers to press for a positive decision on the second, broader discrimination aspect in Article 14, knowing we would win on the core Article 8 breach. This was too radical for Strasbourg and, looking back, inevitable as the ECtHR sticks to a middle-Europe balance but their response on the Article 50 costs was nasty and unfair. We were to be punished for our more radical approach. 
The two UK lawyers who opposed me in court at Strasbourg court calling for continuing decriminalisation were Nicolas Bratza for the Foreign Office and Brian Kerr for the NIO. They prospered mightily. Sir Nicolas Bratza ended up as President of the ECtHR while Sir Brian Kerr became NI Lord Chief Justice and, as Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore, a Justice of the UK Supreme Court. 
In the Article 50 judgment, after every pound of expenses, literally, had been queried and contested by the British Government, costs of £3,315 were awarded for my legal fees. However, I was denied £1,290 or one third, because of an incorrect view by the Court that my lawyers had been operating on a contingency basis – at that time an improper arrangement.  
No damages were awarded, the verdict (and subsequent law change a year later) being seen as sufficient reward for the hurt and pain suffered.  
Three of the five judges who voted against me on Article 8 and the British judge, constituted a majority of the seven in the Article 50 hearing. This was a serious imbalance, given 14 judges had voted in my favour on the main breach of my human rights.“

Jeff Dudgeon MBE
July 2023


Council of Europe


Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association (NIGRA) Papers (PRONI ref D3762/2/1/30)




For permission to publish requests for this document, please contact PRONI at access@communities-ni.gov.uk


PDF scan of A4 document


French and English


Legal Document


Northern Ireland, Strasbourg

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Legal Document


Council of Europe, “Judgement in Dudgeon Case - European Court of Human Rights,” LGBTHistoryni, accessed July 21, 2024, https://lgbthistoryni.com/items/show/87.