February 19, 1997 was a black day for human rights in Europe. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the United Kingdom had not infringed the European Convention on Human Rights when it sentenced three men to imprisonment for sado-masochistic practices.
In 1987, in the course of routine investigations into other matters, the British police came into possession of a number of video films which were made during sado-masochistic encounters involving a group of homosexual men. These activities were consensual and were conducted in private for no purpose other than the achievement of sexual gratification. The infliction of pain was subject to certain rules including the provision of a code word to be used by any "victim" to stop an "assault", and did not lead to any instances of infection, permanent injury or the need for medical attention. Nonetheless, after a police ivestigation codenamed Operation Spanner, several men were charged with a series of offences, including assault and wounding, relating to sado-masochistic activities that had taken place over a ten-year period.
Three of these men - Colin Laskey, Roland Jaggard and Tony Brown - were sentenced to prison terms. The terms were reduced on appeal, but the convictions were upheld. All three men lost their jobs. One required psychiatric treatment. Mr Laskey died in 1996. The other two men brought the case to the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that Government interference in their private life was not justified.
You can read the judgement in full. It shows the extraordinary lengths to which allegedly neutral judicial bodies are prepared to go in order to justify institutional persecution of innocent men based entirely on their sexual preferences. The lowest point is reached in the opinion of Judge Pettiti, who is so proud of his authoritarian prejudices that he spells them out in an afterword:
The dangers of unrestrained permissiveness, which can lead to debauchery, paedophilia or the torture of others, were highlighted at the Stockholm World Conference. The protection of private life means the protection of a person's intimacy and dignity, not the protection of his baseness or the promotion of criminal immoralism.
This brilliant legal mind displays a contempt for individual freedom unrivalled even by the Thought Police in Orwell's 1984.
Postscript (added in 2004). My friend Tony Brown died in 2001 or 2002. His partner Robbie had already died several years earlier.