Simon Caldwell on the outcry following a senior judge's call for the age of consent for sexual intercourse to be lowered
ONE OF Britain's most senior judges has been severely criticised for taking a major step toward lowering the age of consent for sexual intercourse — in defiance of the wishes of Parliament.
Lord Millett spoke out after he sat on a panel of law lords which allowed an appeal by a 26-year-old man against a conviction of indecent assault against a 14year-old girl because the man said he thought she was aged 16 years.
Lord Millen said: "The age of consent has long ceased to reflect ordinary life, and in this respect Parliament has signally failed to discharge its responsibility for keeping the criminal law in touch with the needs of society."
He said that he reached his conclusion because he believed the man. known as K. should have been able to argue honestly that he believed the girl was aged over 16 years.
Lord Millett said: "I do so without reluctance but with some misgiving, for I have little doubt that we shall be failing to give effect to the intention of Parliament."
Robert Whelan, the director of Family and Youth Concern, the independent educational charity, said afterwards that it was the duty of the courts to inter
pret the law in accordance with the wishes of the nation's elected representatives and Lord Millett, by his own admission, had failed to do that.
Mr Whelan said: "We support the maintenance of the law on the age of consent and we would say if there is going to be a change to it, it should be in Parliament so we can have a proper debate and input from the people — my guess is that there would not be a majority in favour of reducing it."
Mr Whelan said that the judges' ruling was symptomatic of a much larger problem in society. "Children are growing up too fast," he said.
"The whole culture is so sexualised, and young people are sexualised from a very early age. They are being made to grow up too quickly. It's a failure of parents to control them. This case shows a need for parents to be vigilant."
The legal age of consent has been under attack in recent years, in particular from some birth control and gay rights groups which believe it should be lowered.
It was first raised from 12 to 16 years in 1885 after a campaign by Josephine Butler, a social reformer and women's rights activist who was concerned about the high levels of child prostitution in London and the emergence of a "white slave trade".
Rachel Heath of Life, a pro-life counselling charity, said that today the age of consent was vital in protecting the young from unwanted pregnancies and an epidemic of sexually-transmitted diseases, with chlamydia and gonorrhoea at their highest levels for more than a decade.
She said: "Lowering the age of consent would further erode the powers of a girl to say 'no'. Teenagers are already feeling pressured enough into sexual activity. With Britain having the highest teenage pregnancy levels in Europe, it seems odd that a senior judge is recommending that the age of consent be changed.
"Magazines, peer pressure and the increasing availability of the morning-after pill from the school nurse all give the impression that early sex is okay and everyone is doing it.
"We should protect the young and be teaching absti
nence. Such programmes are proving extremely successful in America, where they receive state funding. We should be following suit."
The Government is so concerned about levels of chlamydia, which has few symptoms but causes infertility, that it announced it would offer women screening for disease.