What does the age of consent mean?
The age of consent is the age at which a person can consent to sexual intercourse.
In the past the age of consent was more about when you could consent to marry. Sex was only allowed in marriage. In England and Wales this was age 12 for girls and age 14 for boys. Buggery was a crime between men and boys at any age. There were no laws about lesbian sex. The Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 raised the age of consent for girls to 16.
When was an age of consent introduced for same sex acts?
The Sexual Offences Act 1967 partly decriminalised same sex acts for men in England and Wales. This lead to the first age of consent for sex between men. The age of 21 was introduced. The age of consent for opposite sex acts was age 16. Scotland decriminalised same sex acts for men in 1980 and Northern Ireland followed in 1982. Both introduced their first age of consent for sex between men as age 21.
When was the age of consent first lowered?
In 1994, the Conservative MP Edwina Currie introduced an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. This was to equalise the age of consent for sex between men to age 16. But the amendment was defeated. A compromise amendment that lowered the age of consent to age 18 was accepted.. The Act also lowered the age of consent for anal sex between opposite sex couples to age 18. Northern Ireland (1994) and Scotland (1995) lowered the age of consent to age 18 as well.
When was the age of consent equalised?
The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000, came into force on 8 January 2001 across the UK. It made the age of consent the same at age 16 (age 17 in Northern Ireland) for both males and females, and for both opposite and same sex acts. It included lesbian acts for the first time. There was a different rule for someone in a position of trust, like a teacher. Then the age of consent was 18.
The Act was introduced following a European Court of Human Rights judgement that a higher age of consent for homosexuals than for heterosexuals broke the European Convention of Human Rights.
The age of consent in Northern Ireland was finally made equal for everyone at age 16 by the Sexual Offences (Northern Ireland) Order 2008.
Read about Jimmy Somerville and the age of consent in the Personality Dateline