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High Court in Trinidad and Tobago decriminalizes gay sex

High Court in Trinidad and Tobago decriminalizes gay sex

Trinidad and Tobago activist Jason Jones took the case to the High Court (Photo: Facebook)

A Trinidad and Tobago High Court judge ruled on Thursday (20 September) that sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex is legal.

In a High Court challenge launched February 2017, activist Jason Jones argued Sections 13 and 16 were unconstitutional.

In April, the High Court ruled in his favor and overturned colonial-era Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offenses Act. But the government challenged the ruling.

On Thursday, the court did not strike down the legislation completely. But, it ruled consenting adults of the same sex cannot be prosecuted for engaging in sexual acts.

The Attorney General said he will appeal the decision. The government will take the matter to highest court, the UK-based Privy Council.

‘The decriminalization of adult consensual intimacy is a huge step forward for our community’, Jones told Gay Star News.

‘This is not about LGBT, this is about the rights and freedoms enshrined in our Constitution’, he told local media.

‘We have been living in the shadows for far too long’ Jones told Gay Star News. But, he warned,  ‘the fight for full equality continues.’

The law was a holdover from the Caribbean nation’s time as a British colony.

Jones is currently crowdfunding for the Privy Council legal battle. A win here could see decriminalization in another 10 former British colonies which use the Privy Council as a Supreme Court.

What happened?

Justice Devindra Rampersad ordered the words ‘without consent’ be inserted into Section 13 (2) of the Act.

It now reads: ‘In this section “buggery” means sexual intercourse without consent per anum by a male person with a male person or by a male person with a female person.’

The Judge also ordered Section 16 of the Act be amended to state ‘persons’ instead of ‘a male person and female person’.

The ruling therefore refers to sexual intercourse between consenting adults.

Rampersad said the court believed modifying these sections was the most ‘non-intrusive manner’ in which to resolve the issue.

‘This court must and will uphold the Constitution to recognize the dignity of even one citizen whose rights and freedoms have been invalidly taken away,’ Rampersad said in the initial ruling on April 12.

What’s next for Trinidad and Tobago?

Representing the State, lawyer Fyard Hosein asked for a 45-day stay to lodge an appeal. The court denied the request.

But, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said that the state will file an appeal, according to local media.

‘It is a matter of importance that must be settled by the highest Court of Appeal’, he told a local radio station.

‘That is essential so because this particular pronouncement is in relation to one law only. There are in fact approximately 26 other laws which traverse the same issue,’ Al-Rawi said

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, the UK is the highest court of appeal for certain British territories and Commonwealth countries, including Trinidad and Tobago.

A win here would lead to decriminalization in a further ten countries. The Privy Council acts as a Supreme Court for a number of former colonies of Britain, similar to the Supreme Court in the US or India.

Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Mauritius in the Indian Ocean could all see decriminalization as a result of a positive Privy Council ruling.

The council, however, could take three to four years to make a decision.