It’s official, sexual activity between consenting male adults is no longer illegal.
Delivering a 14-page decision at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain yesterday, High Court Judge Devindra Rampersad modified sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act, which had previously criminalised buggery and serious indecency even between consenting adults.
Although Rampersad declared that the sections were unconstitutional in a landmark ruling delivered in April, he had reserved his decision on how the legislation could be amended to give effect to it.
As Section 13 outlawed anal intercourse between two men and a man and a woman, Rampersad sought to introduce the element of consent.
Describing the move as the “non-intrusive” option, Rampersad said: “To accede to the defendant’s proposition that the provisions be struck down would be to go beyond what this court believes is sufficient to meet the justice of the case and to do more than is necessary.”
Rampersad also pointed out that “striking out” was unnecessary, as no one has been recently prosecuted for the offence. It would have also meant that non-consensual anal intercourse (anal rape) would be legal.
Rampersad also rejected that State’s contention that including consent would legitimise an offence, which Parliament condemned whether it was consensual or nonconsensual.
“Parliament, having failed to meet the requirements of Section 13 of the Constitution, the court is satisfied that it cannot be accused of legitimising the act but rather striking out that which Parliament could not lawfully do, having failed in establishing the legitimacy of the exclusion,” Rampersad said.
In dealing with Section 16, Rampersad simply modified the defences available to persons accused of serious indecency.
The legislation defines the offence as “an act, other than sexual intercourse (whether natural or unnatural), by a person involving the use of the genital organ for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire.” It provided that a husband and wife and a consenting couple (a male and a female) are exempt.
Rampersad chose to modify the latter exemption to make the consenting couple gender neutral.
He said: “The result is therefore that there is no differentiation or unequal treatment afforded to consenting male persons such as the claimant in relation to what could previously be regarded as serious indecency between males.
“Obviously, a corollary to this is that consenting females also qualify for these exemptions.”
During yesterday’s hearing, Senior Counsel Fyard Hosein, who is leading the State’s legal team, requested a 45-day stay of the decision to give the State time to prepare its appeal.
“We would like the highest court in the land (the Privy Council) to rule on it,” Hosein said, as he reiterated the Government’s position stated by Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi after Rampersad’s initial judgment.
The suggestion was strongly opposed by attorney Rishi Dass, who is representing T&T-born gay rights activist Jason Jones, who brought the novel lawsuit.
Dass questioned the need for a stay as he noted that the State’s position was the legislation was not being enforced. Rampersad agreed.
Jones is also being represented by Richard Drabble, QC, and Antonio Emmanuel.
Jones was not present in court for the decision but spoke briefly to CNC3 via video conference from the United Kingdom afterwards.
“I am so absolutely thrilled. I have been receiving messages of congratulations from around the world,” Jones said.
Jones noted that his case was cited by India’s Supreme Court in its landmark ruling striking down that country’s homophobic laws earlier this month.
“We are the little island that is roaring and making big noise around the world. Today, the world is again watching us and I am so incredibly proud,” Jones said.
While he thanked the local LGBTQI community for supporting him, he lamented about increasing homophobia arising out of his legal victory.
“As you know, I received many death threats and many awful things have been said about me by a lot of religious leaders, but the LGBT community has really stood by me,” Jones said, as he claimed his legal team is already preparing for the first appeal in the Court of Appeal.
About the case
Last year, Jason Jones filed the lawsuit in which he challenged the constitutionality of sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act.
Jones, who is a resident of the United Kingdom, claimed that the long-standing legislation contravened his constitutional rights to privacy and freedom of thought and expression and was in direct contradiction to this country’s international human rights obligations.
In his 58-page judgment delivered on April 12, Rampersad agreed that the legislation contravened Jones’ rights to privacy and family life.
Although he acknowledged claims from State attorneys that the legislation has never been enforced against consenting adults, Rampersad said that did not mitigate the impact on Jones and other homosexuals who lived in fear of being branded criminals based on their expression of love and affection.
The judge suggested that by allowing it to remain as valid law, Parliament had helped to cultivate society’s homophobic views on the issue.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi has already stated that Government intends to appeal the judgment to the country’s highest appellate court, the Privy Council, to receive a comprehensive judicial determination on the controversial issue.