Victorian Legislation

The Offences against the Persons Act 1861 made buggery a crime, subject on conviction, to imprisonment up to for life. Buggery applies equally to males and females. It covered sodomy between males and females and intercourse between people and animals. Consent was not a defence.

Following the famous Norris case, a challenge under the Irish Constitution and later the European Convention on  Human Rights, the prohibition of buggery between persons aged 17 years and over was abolished.

There are equivalent offences in respect of persons under 15 and 17 years respectively as apply above in respect of rape and sexual assault. Buggery of a person under 15 is punishable by imprisonment for up to life.

Under Age

It is an offence to commit buggery in relation to a person under 17 years punishable by up to five years imprisonment for a first offence and ten years for a subsequent offence. It is an offence to attempt to commit the offence.

Gross indecency covered any sexual act between males that did not constitute buggery.  This was replaced in 1993 by the offence of gross indecency between males under the age of 17 years. It is an offence to attempt to commit an act of gross indecency with a male of the age of 17 years.

Vulnerable Persons

There is an offence of intercourse or attempted intercourse with a mentally impaired person. Mental impairment is a disorder of the mind that renders the person incapable of living independent life or preventing serious exploitation.

This is subject to imprisonment on conviction on indictment for up to ten years. Attempt to commit the same is similarly punishable, but with a shorter maximum sentence.

Buggery and attempted buggery are punishable in the same way. Acts or attempted acts of gross indecency by a male with another who suffers from mental illness is punishable by up to two years imprisonment.

It is the defence for the accused to show that he did not know or have reason to suspect that the person was suffering from a mental impairment.


There is incest is where the accused has sexual intercourse with certain relations. It is an offence for a male to have sexual intercourse with a female whom he knows to be his granddaughter, daughter, sister or mother. A female aged 17 years or over may not consent to intercourse with her grandfather, father, brother or son if she is aware of the relationship.

Brothers and sisters include half brothers and sisters. Age is not relevant. A consensual incestuous relationship between adults constitutes the offence. A woman under 17 years is not capable of committing the offence.

Consent is no defence in incest cases. The male is deemed the principal and the female is deemed the accomplice.

In a prosecution for incest, it must be proved the accused knew that the person concerned was related within the prohibited degrees.

The maximum imprisonment for incest is life imprisonment. The maximum sentence for females over the age of 17 years is seven years imprisonment.

Indecency Offences

There is a range of indecency offences. Generally, behaviour is indecent if it offends recognised standards of modesty of “right-thinking” people. Given the vagueness of this test, the courts acknowledged that it should not be simply applied so as to criminalise the view of the majority as to proper behaviour.

The standard of what constitutes decency had varied over time. In modern society with a strong principle of respect for privacy and tolerance, it is considerably narrower than might formerly have been the case.

Indecent exposure is an offence, at common law and under statutes. It generally involves exposure by a man of his genitals to a woman in a public place.

Outraging Public Decency

Outraging public decency is a common law offence. The accused must have committed a public act of a lewd,  obscene or disgusting nature. This is a matter for the jury or court to assess.

The Act need not necessarily be sexual in nature. There have been prosecutions for the offence relating to works of art in the past.

The conduct must go beyond merely shocking or outraging reasonable people. The act(s) must be done deliberately.

Offending Modesty

If a person commits at or near or inside of any place along which the public habitually pass, an act so as to offend modesty or cause scandal or injure the morals of the community,  he or she is guilty of an offence. The offence is constituted if it is proved that the conduct offended members of the public.


Important Notice! This website is provided for informational purposes only! It is a fundamental condition of the use of this website that no liability is accepted for any loss or damage caused by reason of any error, omission, or misstatement in its contents. 

Draft Articles; The articles on this website are in draft form and are subject to further review for typographical errors and, in some cases, updating and correction. It is intended to include references to the sources of materials and acknowledgements in the final version. The content of articles with [EU] in the title and some of the articles in the section on Agriculture are a reproduction of or are based on European or Irish public sector information.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *