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Correspondence: death of Kevin Boyle

3 January 2011

Amidst the tributes paid to professor Kevin Boyle the Civil Rights activist, teacher and journalist, there is no mention of one of his most important human rights projects: To oversee homosexual law reform in Northern Ireland.

Kevin began by advising the 1974 Committee on Homosexual Law Reform and then the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association to take its case to European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In 1967 a partial reform of the law had been enacted in England and Wales (for consenting adults who were over 21 - Scotland had another arrangement - the Procurator Fiscal Office adopted the convention of not prosecuting men over 21).

It was agreed by NIGRA that Jeffery Dudgeon would take the case to Strasbourg. This involved a complicated series of applications and later negotiations with the European Commission who had to decide if a case could be allowed to proceed.

The case did proceed and the Court eventually decided in Jeffery Dudgeon's favour on the basis that the law of 1861 (life in prison for sodomy) and the 1885 (Offenses Against The Person Act) had breached his right 'to a private life’ - a very difficult thing for the UK government to deny as Jeffery and his then partner's house's had been raided by the RUC, their correspondence read and then both had been interrogated by detectives about their sex lives.

Jeffery and his partner were just two of many who had suffered, others lost their homes and livelihoods - a number went into hiding or fled abroad.

The RUC campaign continued for over a year during that time no serious attempt was made to stop them by the UK government. We know now due to the release of government papers that if it had not been for the intervention of the Attorney General at the very last minute the government, the police and its prosecutors, would have sought imprisonment for Jeffery and his then partner (the law was eventually 
changed in 1982).

Some 25 people were affected by the RUC campaign.  Those who opposed this reactionary juggernaut were Jeffery and his legal team. The key member of that legal team was Kevin Boyle. 

Gerry Fitzpatrick


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