The British English term buggery is very close in meaning to the term sodomy, and is often used interchangeably in law and popular speech. It was also a specific criminal offence under the English common law.
Under most common law legal systems, the term buggery refers to a criminal offence and has a specific legal meaning. In English law, "buggery" was first used in the Buggery Act 1533, while Section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, entitled "Sodomy and Bestiality", defined punishments for "the abominable Crime of Buggery, committed either with Mankind or with any Animal". Neither Act defined what constituted buggery. Over the years the courts have defined buggery as including either:
but not any other form of "unnatural intercourse".
At common law consent was not a defence; nor was the fact that the parties were married. In the UK the punishment for buggery was reduced from hanging to life imprisonment by the Offences against the Person Act 1861. As with the crime of rape, buggery required that penetration must have occurred, but ejaculation is not necessary.
Most common law jurisdictions have now modified the law to permit anal sex between consenting adults. Hong Kong did so retroactively in 1990, barring prosecution for "crimes against nature" committed before the Crimes (Amendment) Ordinance 1990 entered into force except those that would still have constituted a crime if they had been done thereafter. In the United Kingdom, heterosexual buggery was decriminalised in 1969.
In the Republic of Ireland, the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 1993 abolished the offence of "buggery between persons". For some years prior to 1993, criminal prosecution had not been made for buggery between consenting adults. The 1993 Act created an offence of "buggery with a person under the age of 17 years", penalised similar to statutory rape, which also had 17 years as the age of consent. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006 replaced this offence with "defilement of a child", encompassing both "sexual intercourse" and "buggery".
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