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The Report of the Departmental Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution (better known as the Wolfenden report, after Lord Wolfenden, the chairman of the committee) was published in Britain on 4 September 1957 after a succession of well-known men, including Peter Wildeblood, were convicted of homosexual offences.


The committee

The committee of 14 (three women and 11 men) was led by John Wolfenden (1906-1985) who had previously been headmaster of Uppingham and Shrewsbury and in 1950 became Vice Chancellor of the University of Reading. He later became Director of the British Museum.

In addition to the chairman, the committee members were the following:

The committee first met on 15 September 1954 and met on 62 days, 32 of which were used for interviewing witnesses. Wolfenden suggested at an early stage that for the sake of the ladies in the room, that they use the terms Huntley & Palmers after the biscuit manufacturers - Huntley's for homosexuals, and Palmers for prostitutes. Evidence was heard from police and probation officers, psychiatrists, religious leaders, and gay men whose lives had been affected by the law.

The recommendations of the report

Disregarding the conventional ideas of the day, the committee recommended that "homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence". All but James Adair were in favour of this and, contrary to some medical and psychiatric witnesses' evidence at that time, found that "homosexuality cannot legitimately be regarded as a disease, because in many cases it is the only symptom and is compatible with full mental health in other respects." The report added, "The law's function is to preserve public order and decency, to protect the citizen from what is offensive or injurious, and to provide sufficient safeguards against exploitation and corruption of others ... It is not, in our view, the function of the law to intervene in the private life of citizens, or to seek to enforce any particular pattern of behaviour." The recommended age of consent was 21 (the age of majority in the UK then).

The report also discussed the rise in street prostitution at the time, which it associated with "community instability" and "weakening of the family". As a result there was a police crackdown on street prostitution following the report.[1]


The report's recommendations attracted considerable public debate, including a famous exchange of views in publications by Lord Devlin, a leading British judge, whose ideas and publications argued against the report's philosophical basis, and H.L.A. Hart, a leading jurisprudential scholar, who provided argument in its support.

"The enforcement of Morals", by Patrick Devlin, holds a different account of the report's outcome. It is stated that "Adultery, fornication, and prostitution are not, as the Report points out, criminal offences: homosexuality between males is a criminal offence, but between females it is not." [2]

The recommendations eventually led to the passage of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, applying to England and Wales only, that replaced the previous law on sodomy contained in the Offences against the Person Act 1861 and the 1885 Labouchere Amendment which outlawed every homosexual act short of sodomy. The law was only passed a decade after the report was published in 1957.

John Wolfenden came 45th in a list of the top 500 lesbian and gay heroes, Pink Paper, 26 September 1997, issue 500, p19. It later became known that his son Jeremy Wolfenden was homosexual.


  1. ^ Weeks, Jeffery, Sex, Politics and Society, Longman, 1980, p.240
  2. ^ Delvin, Patric "The Enforcement of Morals" (oxford: oxford uni press 1965)


  • Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution, 1957. Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
    • Reprinted 1963 as The Wolfenden Report: Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution. New York: Stein and Day.
  • Eustace Chesser, 1958. Live and Let Live: The Moral of the Wolfenden Report. Taylor Garnett & Evans.
  • Charles Berg, 1959. Fear, Punishment, Anxiety and the Wolfenden Report. George Allen & Unwin.
  • Grey, Antony Quest for Justice, Sinclair-Stevenson, 1992
  • Higgins, Patrick: Heterosexual Dictatorship: Male Homosexuality in Postwar Britain: London: Fourth Estate: 1996: ISBN 1857023552

See also

External links

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