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Shaw v DPP [1962] AC 220 House of Lords

The appellant published a 'ladies directory' which listed contact details of prostitutes, the services they offered and nude pictures. He would charge the prostitutes a fee for inclusion and sell the directory for a fee. He was convicted of conspiracy to corrupt public morals, living on the earnings of prostitution and an offence under the Obscene Publications Act 1959. The appellant appealed on the grounds that no such offence of conspiracy to corrupt public morals existed.

Held:

The appeal was dismissed. The House of Lords in effect created a new crime.


Viscount Simonds:

"In the sphere of criminal law I entertain no doubt that there remains in the Courts of Law a residual power to enforce the supreme and fundamental purpose of the law, to conserve not only the safety and order but also the moral welfare of the State, and that it is their duty to guard it against attacks which may be the more insidious because they are novel and unprepared for. That is the broad head (call it public policy if you wish) within which the present indictment falls. It matters little what label is given to the offending act. To one of your Lordships it may appear an affront to public decency, to another considering that it may succeed in its obvious intention of provoking libidinous desires, it will seem a corruption of public morals. Yet others may deem it aptly described as the creation of a public mischief or the undermining of moral conduct. The same act will not in all ages be regarded in the same way. The law must be related to the changing standards of life, not yielding to every shifting impulse of the popular will but having regard to fundamental
assessments of human values and the purposes of society."



Lord Reid dissenting:

"Even if there is still a vestigial power of this kind it ought not, in my view, to be used unless there appears to be general agreement that the offence to which it is applied ought to be criminal if committed by an individual. Notoriously there are wide differences of opinion today as to how far the law ought to punish immoral acts which are not done in the face of the public. Some think that the law already goes too far, some that it does not go far enough. Parliament is the proper place, and I am firmly of opinion the only proper place, to settle that. When there is sufficient support from public opinion, Parliament does not hesitate to intervene. Where Parliament fears to tread it is not for the courts to rush in."
 
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