In the case of Laskey, Jaggard and Brown
v. the United Kingdom (1),

        The European Court of Human Rights, sitting, in accordance with
Article 43 (art. 43) of the Convention for the Protection of
Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms ("the Convention") and the
relevant provisions of Rules of Court A (2), as a Chamber composed of
the following judges:

        Mr  R. Bernhardt, President,
        Mr  L.-E. Pettiti,
        Mr  C. Russo,
        Mr  A. Spielmann,
        Sir John Freeland,
        Mr  M.A. Lopes Rocha,
        Mr  L. Wildhaber,
        Mr  P. Kuris,
        Mr  E. Levits,

and also of Mr H. Petzold, Registrar, and Mr P.J. Mahoney, Deputy

        Having deliberated in private on 28 October 1996 and
20 January 1997,

        Delivers the following judgment, which was adopted on the
last-mentioned date:
Notes by the Registrar

1.  The case is numbered 109/1995/615/703-705.  The first number is the
case's position on the list of cases referred to the Court in the
relevant year (second number).  The last two numbers indicate the
case's position on the list of cases referred to the Court since its
creation and on the list of the corresponding originating applications
to the Commission.

2.  Rules A apply to all cases referred to the Court before the entry
into force of Protocol No. 9 (P9) (1 October 1994) and thereafter only
to cases concerning States not bound by that Protocol (P9).  They
correspond to the Rules that came into force on 1 January 1983, as
amended several times subsequently.


1.      The case was referred to the Court by the European Commission
of Human Rights ("the Commission") on 11 December 1995, within the
three-month period laid down by Article 32 para. 1 and Article 47 of
the Convention (art. 32-1, art. 47).  It originated in
three applications (nos. 21627/93, 21826/93 and 21974/93) against the
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland lodged with the
Commission under Article 25 (art. 25) on 14 December 1992 by
three British nationals, Mr Colin Laskey, Mr Roland Jaggard and
Mr Anthony Brown.

        The Commission's request referred to Articles 44 and 48
(art. 44, art. 48) and to the declaration whereby the United Kingdom
recognised the compulsory jurisdiction of the Court (Article 46)
(art. 46).  The object of the request was to obtain a decision as to
whether the facts of the case disclosed a breach by the respondent
State of its obligations under Article 8 of the Convention (art. 8).

2.      In response to the enquiry made in accordance with Rule 33
para. 3 (d) of Rules of Court A, the late Mr Laskey's father and the
two other applicants stated that they wished to take part in the
proceedings and designated the lawyers who would represent them
(Rule 30).

3.      The Chamber to be constituted included ex officio
Sir John Freeland, the elected judge of British nationality (Article 43
of the Convention) (art. 43), and Mr R. Bernhardt, the Vice-President
of the Court (Rule 21 para. 4 (b)).  On 8 February 1996, in the
presence of the Registrar, the President of the Court, Mr R. Ryssdal,
drew by lot the names of the other seven members, namely
Mr L.-E. Pettiti, Mr C. Russo, Mr A. Spielmann, Mr M.A. Lopes Rocha,
Mr L. Wildhaber, Mr P. Kuris and Mr E. Levits (Article 43 in fine of
the Convention and Rule 21 para. 5) (art. 43).

4.      As President of the Chamber (Rule 21 para. 6), Mr Bernhardt,
acting through the Registrar, consulted the Agent of the
United Kingdom Government ("the Government"), the applicants' lawyers
and the Delegate of the Commission on the organisation of the
proceedings (Rules 37 para. 1 and 38).  Pursuant to the orders made in
consequence, the Registrar received the Government's and the
applicants' memorials on 2 and 15 July 1996 respectively.

5.      On 17 July 1996, the President granted leave to
Rights International, a New York-based non-governmental
human rights organisation, to submit written comments on specified
aspects of the case (Rule 37 para. 2).  The comments were received on
16 August 1996.

6.      In accordance with the President's decision, the hearing took
place in public in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on
21 October 1996.  The Court had held a preparatory meeting beforehand.

        There appeared before the Court:

(a) for the Government

    Mr I. Christie, Assistant Legal Adviser,
       Foreign and Commonwealth Office,                        Agent,
    Mr D. Pannick QC,
    Mr M. Shaw,                                              Counsel,
    Mr S. Bramley,
    Ms B. Moxon,                                            Advisers;

(b) for the Commission

    Mr G. Ress,                                             Delegate;

(c) for the applicants

    Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC,
    Ms A. Worrall QC,                                        Counsel,
    Mr D. Jonas,
    Mr A. Hamilton,
    Mr I. Geffen,                                         Solicitors,
    Mr J. Wadham,                                            Adviser.

        The Court heard addresses by Mr Ress, Lord Lester of
Herne Hill, Ms Worrall and Mr Pannick.


I.      The circumstances of the case

7.      Mr Laskey, Mr Jaggard and Mr Brown, all British citizens, were
born in 1943, 1947 and 1935 respectively.  Mr Laskey died on
14 May 1996.

8.      In 1987, in the course of routine investigations into other
matters, the police came into possession of a number of video films
which were made during sado-masochistic encounters involving the
applicants and as many as forty-four other homosexual men.  As a result
the applicants, with several other 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.  One of the
charges involved a defendant who was not yet 21 years old - the age of
consent to male homosexual practices at the time.  Although the
instances of assault were very numerous, the prosecution limited the
counts to a small number of exemplary charges.

        The acts consisted in the main of maltreatment of the genitalia
(with, for example, hot wax, sandpaper, fish hooks and needles) and
ritualistic beatings either with the assailant's bare hands or a
variety of implements, including stinging nettles, spiked belts and a
cat-o'-nine tails.  There were instances of branding and infliction of
injuries which resulted in the flow of blood and which left scarring.

        These activities were consensual and were conducted in private
for no apparent 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.

9.      The activities took place at a number of locations, including
rooms equipped as torture chambers.  Video cameras were used to record
events and the tapes copied and distributed amongst members of the
group.  The prosecution was largely based on the contents of those
videotapes.  There was no suggestion that the tapes had been sold or
used other than by members of the group.

10.     The applicants pleaded guilty to the assault charges after the
trial judge ruled that they could not rely on the consent of the
"victims" as an answer to the prosecution case.

11.     On 19 December 1990, the defendants were convicted and
sentenced to terms of imprisonment.  On passing sentence, the
trial judge commented: "... the unlawful conduct now before the court
would be dealt with equally in the prosecution of heterosexuals or
bisexuals if carried out by them.  The homosexuality of the defendants
is only the background against which the case must be viewed."

        Mr Laskey was sentenced to imprisonment for four years and
six months.  This included a sentence of four years' imprisonment for
aiding and abetting keeping a disorderly house (see paragraph 31 below)
and a consecutive term of six months' imprisonment for possession of
an indecent photograph of a child.  Under section 47 of the
Offences against the Person Act 1861 ("the 1861 Act" - see
paragraph 27 below), Mr Laskey also received concurrent sentences of
twelve months' imprisonment in respect of various counts of assault
occasioning actual bodily harm and aiding and abetting assault
occasioning actual bodily harm.

12.     Mr Jaggard was sentenced to imprisonment for three years.  He
received two years' imprisonment for aiding and abetting unlawful
wounding - contrary to section 20 of the 1861 Act (see paragraph 25
below) -, and a further twelve months' imprisonment for assault
occasioning actual bodily harm, aiding and abetting the same offence,
and unlawful wounding.

13.     Mr Brown was sentenced to imprisonment for two years and
nine months.  He received twelve months' imprisonment for aiding and
abetting assault occasioning actual bodily harm, a further nine months'
imprisonment for assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and a further
twelve months' imprisonment for further assaults occasioning actual
bodily harm.

14.     The applicants appealed against conviction and sentence.

15.     On 19 February 1992, the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division,
dismissed the appeals against conviction.  Since, however, the court
found that the applicants did not appreciate that their actions in
inflicting injuries were criminal, reduced sentences were imposed.

16.     Mr Laskey's sentence was thus reduced to eighteen months'
imprisonment as regards the charge of aiding and abetting keeping a
disorderly house.  This sentence was to run concurrently with another
three months' sentence in respect of the various counts of assault and
consecutively with six months' imprisonment for the possession of an
indecent photograph of a child, totalling two years' imprisonment.

17.     Mr Jaggard's and Mr Brown's sentences were reduced to
six months' and three months' imprisonment respectively.

18.     The applicants appealed to the House of Lords on the following
certified point of law of public importance:

        "Where A wounds or assaults B occasioning him actual bodily
        harm in the course of a sado-masochistic encounter, does the
        prosecution have to prove lack of consent on the part of B
        before they can establish A's guilt under section 20 or
        section 47 of the 1861 Act?"

19.     On 11 March 1993, the appeal, known as the case of R. v. Brown
([1993] 2 All England Law Reports 75), was dismissed by a majority of
the House of Lords, two of the five law lords dissenting.

20.     Lord Templeman, in the majority, held after reviewing the
case-law that:

        "... the authorities dealing with the intentional infliction
        of bodily harm do not establish that consent is a defence to
        a charge under the Act of 1861.  They establish that consent
        is a defence to the infliction of bodily harm in the course of
        some lawful activities.  The question is whether the defence
        should be extended to the infliction of bodily harm in the
        course of sado-masochistic encounters ...

        Counsel for the appellants argued that consent should provide
        a defence ... because it was said every person has a right to
        deal with his own body as he chooses.  I do not consider that
        this slogan provides a sufficient guide to the policy decision
        which must now be taken.  It is an offence for a person to
        abuse his own body and mind by taking drugs.  Although the law
        is often broken, the criminal law restrains a practice which
        is regarded as dangerous and injurious to individuals and which
        if allowed and extended is harmful to society generally.  In
        any event the appellants in this case did not mutilate their
        own bodies.  They inflicted harm on willing victims ...

        In principle there is a difference between violence which is
        incidental and violence which is inflicted for the indulgence
        of cruelty.  The violence of sado-masochistic encounters
        involves the indulgence of cruelty by sadists and the
        degradation of victims.  Such violence is injurious to the
        participants and unpredictably dangerous.  I am not prepared
        to invent a defence of consent for sado-masochistic encounters
        which breed and glorify cruelty ...

        Society is entitled and bound to protect itself against a cult
        of violence.  Pleasure derived from the infliction of pain is
        an evil thing.  Cruelty is uncivilised."

21.     Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle found that:

        "In my view the line falls properly to be drawn between assault
        at common law and the offence of assault occasioning actual
        bodily harm created by section 47 of the 1861 Act, with the
        result that consent of the victim is no answer to anyone
        charged with the latter offence ... unless the circumstances
        fall within one of the well known exceptions such as organised
        sporting contests or games, parental chastisement or reasonable
        surgery ... the infliction of actual or more serious bodily
        harm is an unlawful activity to which consent is no answer.

        ... Notwithstanding the views which I have come to, I think it
        right to say something about the submissions that consent to
        the activity of the appellants would not be injurious to the
        public interest.

        Considerable emphasis was placed by the appellants on the
        well-ordered and secret manner in which their activities were
        conducted and upon the fact that these activities had resulted
        in no injuries which required medical attention.  There was,
        it was said, no question of proselytising by the appellants.
        This latter submission sits ill with the following passage in
        the judgment of the Lord Chief Justice:

              'They [Laskey and Cadman] recruited new participants;
              they jointly organised proceedings at the house where
              much of this activity took place; where much of the pain
              inflicting equipment was stored.

              Cadman was a voyeur rather than a sado-masochist, but
              both he and Laskey through their operations at the
              Horwich premises were responsible in part for the
              corruption of a youth "K" who is now it seems settled
              into a normal heterosexual relationship.'

        Be that as it may, in considering the public interest it would
        be wrong to look only at the activities of the appellants
        alone, there being no suggestion that they and their associates
        are the only practitioners of homosexual sado-masochism in
        England and Wales.  This House must therefore consider the
        possibility that these activities are practised by others and
        by others who are not so controlled or responsible as the
        appellants are claiming to be.  Without going into details of
        all the rather curious activities in which the appellants
        engaged it would appear to be good luck rather than good
        judgment which has prevented serious injury from occurring.
        Wounds can easily become septic if not properly treated, the
        free flow of blood from a person who is HIV-positive or who has
        AIDS can infect another and an inflicter who is carried away
        by sexual excitement or by drink or drugs could very easily
        inflict pain and injury beyond the level to which the receiver
        had consented.  Your Lordships have no information as to
        whether such situations have occurred in relation to other
        sado-masochistic practitioners.  It was no doubt these dangers
        which caused Lady Mallalieu to restrict her propositions in
        relation to the public interest to the actual rather than the
        potential result of the activity.  In my view such a
        restriction is quite unjustified.  When considering the
        public interest potential for harm is just as relevant as
        actual harm.  As Mathew J. said in Coney 8 Queen's Bench 534,

              'There is however abundant authority for saying that no
              consent can render that innocent which is in fact

        Furthermore, the possibility of proselytisation and corruption
        of young men is a real danger even in the case of these
        appellants and the taking of video recordings of such
        activities suggests that secrecy may not be as strict as the
        appellants claimed to your Lordships."

22.     Lord Mustill and Lord Slynn of Hadley dissented.  The first
considered that the case should not be treated as falling within the
criminal law of violence but rather within the criminal law of private
sexual relations.  He gave weight to the arguments of the appellants
concerning Article 8 of the Convention (art. 8), finding that the
decisions of the European authorities clearly favoured the right of the
appellants to conduct their private life undisturbed by the
criminal law.  He considered after an examination of the relevant
case-law that it was appropriate for the House of Lords to tackle
afresh the question whether public interest required penalising the
infliction of this degree of harm in private on a consenting recipient,
where the purpose was not profit but gratification of sexual desire.
He found no convincing argument on grounds of health (alleged risk of
infections or spread of AIDS), the alleged risk of the activities
getting out of hand or any possible risk of corruption of youth which
might require the offences under the 1861 Act to be interpreted as
applying to this conduct.

23.     Lord Slynn of Hadley found that as the law stood adults were
able to consent to acts done in private which did not result in serious
bodily harm.  He agreed that it was in the end a matter of policy in
an area where social and moral factors were extremely important and
where attitudes could change.  It was however for the legislature to
decide whether such conduct should be brought within the criminal law
and not for the courts in the interests of "paternalism" to introduce
into existing statutory crimes relating to offences against the person
concepts which did not properly fit there.

24.     The proceedings were given widespread press coverage.  All the
applicants lost their jobs and Mr Jaggard required extensive
psychiatric treatment.

II.     Relevant domestic law and practice

    A.  Offences against the persons

        1.    The Offences against the Person Act 1861

25.     Section 20 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861
("the 1861 Act") provides:

        "Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously wound or inflict
        any grievous bodily harm upon any other person, either with or
        without any weapon or instrument, ... shall be liable ... to
        [imprisonment] ... for not more than five years."

26.     According to the case-law, to constitute a wound for the
purposes of the section, the whole skin must be broken, not merely the
outer layer or epidermis.

27.     By section 47 of the 1861 Act:

        "Whosoever shall be convicted on indictment of any assault
        occasioning actual bodily harm shall be liable ... to
        imprisonment for not more than five years."

        Actual bodily harm is defined as "any hurt or injury calculated
to interfere with health or comfort" (Liksey J, in R. v. Miller
[1954] 2 Queen's Bench Reports 282, at 292).

        2.    Case-law prior to R. v. Brown

28.     In the case of R. v. Donovan ([1934] 2 King's Bench Reports,
at 498), the accused had beaten with a cane a girl for the purposes of
sexual gratification, with her consent. Swift J held:

        "It is an unlawful act to beat another person with such a
        degree of violence that the infliction of actual bodily harm
        is a probable consequence, and when such an act is proved,
        consent is immaterial."

29.     In Attorney-General's Reference (No. 6 of 1980)
([1980] Queen's Bench Reports, at 715) where two men quarrelled and
decided to fight each other, Lord Lane CJ in the Court of Appeal had

        "It is not in the public interest that people should try to
        cause or should cause each other actual bodily harm for no good
        reason.  Minor struggles are another matter.  So, in our
        judgment, it is immaterial whether the act occurs in private
        or in public; it is an assault if actual bodily harm is
        intended and/or caused.  This means that most fights will be
        unlawful regardless of consent.  Nothing which we have said is
        intended to cast doubt upon the accepted legality of properly
        conducted games and sports, lawful chastisement or correction,
        reasonable surgical interference, dangerous exhibitions, etc.
        These apparent exceptions can be justified as involving the
        exercise of a legal right, in the case of chastisement or
        correction, or as needed in the public interest, in the other

        3.    Case-law subsequent to R. v. Brown

30.     In R. v. Wilson ([1996] 3 Weekly Law Reports, at 125), where
a man had been convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm for
having branded his initials with a hot knife on his wife's buttocks
with her consent, the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, allowed the
appeal.  In the course of the court's judgment, Lord Justice Russell

        "... there is no factual comparison to be made between the
        instant case and the facts of either Donovan or Brown:
        Mrs Wilson not only consented to that which the appellant did,
        she instigated it.  There was no aggressive intent on the part
        of the appellant ...


        We do not think that we are entitled to assume that the method
        adopted by the appellant and his wife was any more dangerous
        or painful than tattooing ...

        Consensual activity between husband and wife, in the privacy
        of the matrimonial home, is not, in our judgment, a proper
        matter for criminal investigation, let alone
        criminal prosecution."

    B.  Offences against public decency

31.     Keeping a "disorderly house" is a common law offence.  A
disorderly house is defined as

        "one which is not regulated by the restraints of morality and
        which is so conducted as to violate law and good order.  There
        must be an element of 'open house', but it does not need to be
        open for the public at large ...  Where indecent performances
        or exhibitions are alleged as rendering the premises a
        disorderly house, it must be proved that matters are there
        performed or exhibited of such a character that their
        performance or exhibition in a place of common resort
        (a) amounts to an outrage of public decency, or (b) tends to
        corrupt or deprave, or (c) is otherwise calculated to injure
        the public interest so as to call for condemnation and
        punishment" ([1996] Archbold's Criminal Pleading, Evidence and
        Practice 20, at 224).


32.     Mr Laskey, Mr Jaggard and Mr Brown applied to the Commission
on 14 December 1992.  They relied on Articles 7 and 8 of the Convention
(art. 7, art. 8), complaining that their convictions were the result
of an unforeseeable application of a provision of the criminal law
which, in any event, amounted to an unlawful and unjustifiable
interference with their right to respect for their private life.

33.     On 18 January 1995, the Commission declared the applications
(nos. 21627/93, 21826/93 and 21974/93) admissible as to the complaint
under Article 8 of the Convention (art. 8).  In its report of
26 October 1995 (Article 31) (art. 31), it expressed the opinion, by
eleven votes to seven, that there had been no violation of that
provision (art. 8).

        The full text of the Commission's opinion and of the
two separate opinions contained in the report is reproduced as an annex
to this judgment (1).
Note by the Registrar

1.  For practical reasons this annex will appear only with the printed
version of the judgment (in Reports of Judgments and Decisions 1997-I),
but a copy of the Commission's report is obtainable from the registry.


34.     At the hearing, the Government invited the Court to agree with
the majority of the Commission that there had been no breach of the
Convention in this case.

        The applicants, for their part, asked the Court to consider the
position of each individual applicant upon the basis of the agreed
facts and the charges which were pertinent to them and to find a
violation of their right to respect for their private lives through the
expression of their sexual personality, as guaranteed by Article 8 of
the Convention (art. 8).



35.     The applicants contended that their prosecution and convictions
for assault and wounding in the course of consensual sado-masochistic
activities between adults was in breach of Article 8 of the Convention
(art. 8), which provides:

        "1.   Everyone has the right to respect for his private and
        family life, his home and his correspondence.

        2.    There shall be no interference by a public authority with
        the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with
        the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the
        interests of national security, public safety or the
        economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of
        disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or
        for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others."

        It was common ground among those appearing before the Court
that the criminal proceedings against the applicants which resulted in
their conviction constituted an "interference by a public authority"
with the applicants' right to respect for their private life.  It was
similarly undisputed that the interference had been "in accordance with
the law".  Furthermore, the Commission and the applicants accepted the
Government's assertion that the interference pursued the legitimate aim
of the "protection of health or morals", within the meaning of the
second paragraph of Article 8 (art. 8-2).

36.     The Court observes that not every sexual activity carried out
behind closed doors necessarily falls within the scope of Article 8
(art. 8).  In the present case, the applicants were involved in
consensual sado-masochistic activities for purposes of sexual
gratification.  There can be no doubt that sexual orientation and
activity concern an intimate aspect of private life
(see, mutatis mutandis, the Dudgeon v. the United Kingdom judgment of
22 October 1981, Series A no. 45, p. 21, para. 52).  However, a
considerable number of people were involved in the activities in
question which included, inter alia, the recruitment of new "members",
the provision of several specially equipped "chambers", and the
shooting of many videotapes which were distributed among the "members"
(see paragraphs 8 and 9 above).  It may thus be open to question
whether the sexual activities of the applicants fell entirely within
the notion of "private life" in the particular circumstances of the

        However, since this point has not been disputed by those
appearing before it, the Court sees no reason to examine it of its own
motion in the present case.  Assuming, therefore, that the prosecution
and conviction of the applicants amounted to an interference with their
private life, the question arises whether such an interference was
"necessary in a democratic society" within the meaning of the
second paragraph of Article 8 (art. 8-2).

        "Necessary in a democratic society"

37.     The applicants maintained that the interference in issue could
not be regarded as "necessary in a democratic society".  This
submission was contested by the Government and by a majority of the

38.     In support of their submission, the applicants alleged that all
those involved in the sado-masochistic encounters were willing
adult participants; that participation in the acts complained of was
carefully restricted and controlled and was limited to persons with
like-minded sado-masochistic proclivities; that the acts were not
witnessed by the public at large and that there was no danger or
likelihood that they would ever be so witnessed; that no serious or
permanent injury had been sustained, no infection had been caused to
the wounds, and that no medical treatment had been required.
Furthermore, no complaint was ever made to the police - who learnt
about the applicants' activities by chance (see paragraph 8 above).

        The potential for severe injury or for moral corruption was
regarded by the applicants as a matter of speculation.  To the extent
that issues of public morality had arisen - with reference to
Mr Laskey's conviction for keeping a disorderly house and for the
possession of an indecent photograph of a child (see paragraph 11
above) - these had been dealt with under the relevant sexual offences
provisions and appropriately punished.  In any event, such issues fell
outside the scope of the case as presented before the Court.

39.     The applicants submitted that their case should be viewed as
one involving matters of sexual expression, rather than violence.  With
due regard to this consideration, the line beyond which consent is no
defence to physical injury should only be drawn at the level of
intentional or reckless causing of serious disabling injury.

40.     For the Government, the State was entitled to punish acts of
violence, such as those for which the applicants were convicted, that
could not be considered of a trifling or transient nature, irrespective
of the consent of the victim.  In fact, in the present case, some of
these acts could well be compared to "genital torture" and a
Contracting State could not be said to have an obligation to tolerate
acts of torture because they are committed in the context of a
consenting sexual relationship.  The State was moreover entitled to
prohibit activities because of their potential danger.

        The Government further contended that the criminal law should
seek to deter certain forms of behaviour on public-health grounds but
also for broader moral reasons.  In this respect, acts of torture -
such as those in issue in the present case - may be banned also on the
ground that they undermine the respect which human beings should confer
upon each other.  In any event, the whole issue of the role of consent
in the criminal law is of great complexity and the Contracting States
should enjoy a wide margin of appreciation to consider all the
public-policy options.

41.     The Commission noted that the injuries that were or could be
caused by the applicants' activities were of a significant nature and
degree, and that the conduct in question was, on any view, of an
extreme character.  The State authorities therefore acted within their
margin of appreciation in order to protect its citizens from real risk
of serious physical harm or injury.

42.     According to the Court's established case-law, the notion of
necessity implies that the interference corresponds to a pressing
social need and, in particular, that it is proportionate to the
legitimate aim pursued; in determining whether an interference is
"necessary in a democratic society", the Court will take into account
that a margin of appreciation is left to the national authorities
(see, inter alia, the Olsson v. Sweden (no. 1) judgment of
24 March 1988, Series A no. 130, pp. 31-32, para. 67), whose decision
remains subject to review by the Court for conformity with the
requirements of the Convention.

        The scope of this margin of appreciation is not identical in
each case but will vary according to the context.  Relevant factors
include the nature of the Convention right in issue, its importance for
the individual and the nature of the activities concerned (see the
Buckley v. the United Kingdom judgment of 25 September 1996, Reports
of Judgments and Decisions 1996-IV, pp. 1291-92, para. 74).

43.     The Court considers that one of the roles which the State is
unquestionably entitled to undertake is to seek to regulate, through
the operation of the criminal law, activities which involve the
infliction of physical harm.  This is so whether the activities in
question occur in the course of sexual conduct or otherwise.

44.     The determination of the level of harm that should be tolerated
by the law in situations where the victim consents is in the first
instance a matter for the State concerned since what is at stake is
related, on the one hand, to public health considerations and to the
general deterrent effect of the criminal law, and, on the other, to the
personal autonomy of the individual.

45.     The applicants have contended that, in the circumstances of the
case, the behaviour in question formed part of private morality which
is not the State's business to regulate.  In their submission the
matters for which they were prosecuted and convicted concerned only
private sexual behaviour.

        The Court is not persuaded by this submission.  It is evident
from the facts established by the national courts that the applicants'
sado-masochistic activities involved a significant degree of injury or
wounding which could not be characterised as trifling or transient.
This, in itself, suffices to distinguish the present case from those
applications which have previously been examined by the Court
concerning consensual homosexual behaviour in private between adults
where no such feature was present (see the Dudgeon judgment cited
above, the Norris v. Ireland judgment of 26 October 1988, Series A
no. 142, and the Modinos v. Cyprus judgment of 22 April 1993, Series A
no. 259).

46.     Nor does the Court accept the applicants' submission that no
prosecution should have been brought against them since their injuries
were not severe and since no medical treatment had been required.

        In deciding whether or not to prosecute, the State authorities
were entitled to have regard not only to the actual seriousness of the
harm caused - which as noted above was considered to be significant -
but also, as stated by Lord Jauncey of Tullichettle (see paragraph 21
above), to the potential for harm inherent in the acts in question.
In this respect it is recalled that the activities were considered by
Lord Templeman to be "unpredictably dangerous" (see paragraph 20

47.     The applicants have further submitted that they were singled
out partly because of the authorities' bias against homosexuals.  They
referred to the recent judgment in the Wilson case (see paragraph 30
above), where, in their view, similar behaviour in the context of a
heterosexual couple was not considered to deserve criminal punishment.

        The Court finds no evidence in support of the applicants'
allegations in either the conduct of the proceedings against them or
the judgment of the House of Lords.  In this respect it recalls the
remark of the trial judge when passing sentence that "the unlawful
conduct now before the court would be dealt with equally in the
prosecution of heterosexuals or bisexuals if carried out by them"
(see paragraph 11 above).

        Moreover, it is clear from the judgment of the House of Lords
that the opinions of the majority were based on the extreme nature of
the practices involved and not the sexual proclivities of the
applicants (see paragraphs 20 and 21 above).

        In any event, like the Court of Appeal, the Court does not
consider that the facts in the Wilson case were at all comparable in
seriousness to those in the present case (see paragraph 30 above).

48.     Accordingly, the Court considers that the reasons given by the
national authorities for the measures taken in respect of the
applicants were relevant and sufficient for the purposes of Article 8
para. 2 (art. 8-2).

49.     It remains to be ascertained whether these measures were
proportionate to the legitimate aim or aims pursued.

        The Court notes that the charges of assault were numerous and
referred to illegal activities which had taken place over more than
ten years.  However, only a few charges were selected for inclusion in
the prosecution case.  It further notes that, in recognition of the
fact that the applicants did not appreciate their actions to be
criminal, reduced sentences were imposed on appeal
(see paragraphs 15-17 above).  In these circumstances, bearing in mind
the degree of organisation involved in the offences, the measures taken
against the applicants cannot be regarded as disproportionate.

50.     In sum, the Court finds that the national authorities were
entitled to consider that the prosecution and conviction of the
applicants were necessary in a democratic society for the protection
of health within the meaning of Article 8 para. 2 of the Convention
(art. 8-2).

51.     In view of this conclusion the Court, like the Commission, does
not find it necessary to determine whether the interference with the
applicants' right to respect for private life could also be justified
on the ground of the protection of morals.  This finding, however,
should not be understood as calling into question the prerogative of
the State on moral grounds to seek to deter acts of the kind in


        Holds that there has been no violation of Article 8 of the
        Convention (art. 8).

        Done in English and in French, and delivered at a public
hearing in the Human Rights Building, Strasbourg, on 19 February 1997.

Signed: Rudolf BERNHARDT

Signed: Herbert PETZOLD

        In accordance with Article 51 para. 2 of the Convention
(art. 51-2) and Rule 53 para. 2 of Rules of Court A, the concurring
opinion of Mr Pettiti is annexed to this judgment.

Initialled: R. B.

Initialled: H. P.



        I concurred with all my colleagues in finding that there had
been no violation of Article 8 of the Convention (art. 8).  However,
my reasoning differs from theirs in some respects.

        Firstly, the Court implicitly accepted that Article 8 (art. 8)
was applicable since it assumed there had been an interference, and the
application referred to State interference under Article 8 (art. 8):
"the institution of criminal proceedings infringed that Article
(art. 8)."

        In my view, that Article (art. 8) was not even applicable in
the instant case.  The concept of private life cannot be stretched

        Not every aspect of private life automatically qualifies for
protection under the Convention.  The fact that the behaviour concerned
takes place on private premises does not suffice to ensure complete
immunity and impunity.  Not everything that happens behind closed doors
is necessarily acceptable.  It is already the case in criminal law that
the "rape" of a spouse where there is doubt whether consent was given
may lead to prosecution.  Other types of behaviour may give rise to
civil proceedings (internal telephone tapping for example).  Sexual
acts and abuse, even when not criminal, give rise to liability.

        The case could have been looked at differently, both in
domestic law and subsequently under the Convention.  Can one consider
that adolescents taking part in sado-masochistic activities have given
their free and informed consent where their elders have used various
means of enticement, including financial reward?

        In domestic law, sado-masochistic activities could be made the
subject of a specific criminal offence without that being contrary to
Article 8 (art. 8) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

        It seems to me that the wording used by the Court in
paragraph 42 is too vague.  The margin of appreciation has been used
by the Court mainly in dealing with issues of morals or problems of
civil society, but above all so as to afford better protection to
others; consequently, a reference to the Mùˆller and Others
v. Switzerland judgment would have been preferable to the reference to
the Buckley v. the United Kingdom judgment (see Olivier de Schutter's
commentary on that judgment in Revue trimestrielle des droits de
l'homme, Brussels, 1997, pp. 64-93).

        It seemed to me necessary to expand paragraph 43 by noting "to
regulate and punish practices of sexual abuse that are demeaning even
if they do not involve the infliction of physical harm".

        The dangers of unrestrained permissiveness, which can lead to
debauchery, paedophilia (see paragraph 11 of the judgment) 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.