Naturism and the Law
The following article is only applicable to England and Wales. The law in Scotland and Northern Ireland may be different and anyone intending to practice naturism in those countries should ensure that they are acting in a legal manner.
‘Nudity is not illegal in England and Wales’
If you want to get that all-over tan or just enjoy the freedom of being naked you are perfectly entitled to do so.
Never! …What! …Impossible! …Rubbish!
Yes, I can hear you all. It’s true that you cannot go shopping to your local Safeway or walk down the High Street naked but the bald fact is that ‘nudity is not illegal’ – its what you do with that nudity that may cause you to come into contact with the Law – and the Law will be dressed in blue. To be able to do your job as a police officer it is necessary to have a good, practical, working knowledge of the Law. If you don`t get it right at the ‘sharp end’ the solicitors and barristers will have a field day with you in the cold calmness of a Court Room. I was a practical working copper for over 30 years and also a naturist for a large proportion of that time. I have never felt that I was ever breaking the Law. On private property (sun clubs, etc.) nudity is not a problem, but the Fact File has a long list of beaches where naturism can be practised. Beaches are (generally) places to which the public have unrestricted access, the same as a supermarket or street, so how can it be legal there?
We will have to have a look at the Law on the subject, but first, the beaches themselves.
There is no such thing as an official naturist beach in England and Wales It is not necessary for the beach to have official status because ‘nudity is not illegal’ – although you may find some where the Local Authority or the owners have approved its naturist use. Over the years naturists have established a traditional use of certain beaches and that tradition, its established use, is what makes it different from the usual beach, because here, the normal thing is to be nude. Others are very isolated or so big that it unlikely you will see anyone else, but some are shared with clothed people (textiles) and are known as ‘tolerated’ beaches. These are usually traditional naturist areas that textiles have discovered and share. They are more common in Europe than this country. It is important that, to remain within the law, you ensure that you are in the right place and don’t wander naked into other areas. Stay where it is normal to be naked. I know this can be difficult when boundaries are not marked, but use common sense and do not stray into textile areas.
To the law then. There are really just two laws to take account of, that of ‘indecent exposure’ and that of ‘Breach of the Peace’.
The Public Order Act , 1986 is not actually about order, but disorder and violent conduct, (something you will probably never see on a naturist beach). Firstly, indecent exposure, an offence I am sure everyone has heard of. In English Law there are two types of indecent exposure and neither of them has any impact on nudity in general. The first is in Statute Law (that made by Parliament), the second in Common Law (a term which describes that which has been accepted over the centuries as being the law).
The basis of the statutory offence is that a male ‘exposes his person (‘legalese’ for penis) with intent to insult a female’. It is a `sexual offence`, that is, there must be a sexual motive to it. For a prosecution to succeed it would be expected that the penis in question should be erect. It cannot be committed by a female although the victim must be of that sex and it must be a deliberate act. The female must also be offended by the behaviour! It is this law that is used to prosecute the classic dirty raincoated ‘flasher’. Don’t worry about the much talked about (but rarely seen) ‘involuntary erection’ problem, this law cannot get you for that. However, it is a relatively serious offence punishable by fine or imprisonment and the police can arrest for it in certain circumstances.The Common Law offence of indecent exposure is somewhat different This is an indecency offence, not sexual. It can be committed by either sex and no intent is necessary. Unfortunately I don`t know what indecency means – and neither does the Law – so a decision as to what is indecent is usually left to a Magistrate or a Jury. This offence is of a minor nature and could be used to prosecute a ‘flasher’ where the necessary intent cannot be proved.The penalty if found guilty is to be ‘bound over’ to keep the Peace (see later). In practice, this charge will seldom be used, because the effect and penalty of ‘conduct likely to cause a breach of the Peace’ is the same and that offence does not require proof of indecency.
None of the above should ever have any effect on the practice of naturism.
The most important law effecting naturists it that of ‘Breach of the Peace’. This is very old law and anyone taken before a Court will be prosecuted under the Justices of the Peace Act, 1361 – that’s not a typing error, it is over 600 years old. It is still used everyday by police officers, no police officer could do his job effectively without it. ‘To uphold the Queen`s Peace’ is part of the oath taken by a police officer (before a Magistrate) on appointment.This law affects naturists using traditional beaches in the most important of ways – it actually allows them to be there! I cannot recall this ever being tested in Court but if there was a case to answer it would have been tried sometime in 600 years! So how does it work? To understand that, you will need to understand what the Peace is. The Queen’s (or King’s) Peace is the normal state of society and any disturbance of that Peace is a ‘Breach of the Peace’. Simple!The ‘normal state of society’ varies from place to place and time to time. For example, conduct perfectly acceptable at a football match would not be appreciated in a churchyard. Have you ever seen women at a jumble sale? Imagine that at Harrods, and even here behaviour at the January sales would not be acceptable at any other time. The normal state of society on a recognised naturist beach is nudity – so just by being naked you cannot disturb that state. There is, therefore, no Breach of the Peace and the police cannot stop you from enjoying your day in the sun. Breach of the Peace is not, technically, an offence, but should you for any reason be taken before a Court for it, you would be bound over to keep the Peace for a given period of time and should you re-offend you would have to forfeit a sum of money. If you refuse to be bound over you could be sent to prison for a period not exceeding 6 months. There is no option of a fine. Most people agree!
Don`t worry – as a genuine, responsible naturist this should never affect you.
The author of this article is a retired police officer with over 30 years experience. He is not a legal expert, but his views are based upon a practical working knowledge of the Law. They are, we believe, representative of the views that must be taken by the those who enforce the law – and it is mainly in their hands as to how that law is enforced. Neither the author nor the publishers of this FactFile* can be held responsible should naturism or nudity cause you to be prosecuted for any offence.
* This article has been copied and re-blogged from the Naturist UK Fact File http://nuff.org.uk/factfile/
An update to the law can be found here You-and-the-Law-v5-March-2012