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Published: Wed, 07 Mar 2018

Shaw v Director of Public Prosecutions [1962] AC 220

Crime; libel; advertisement; obscenity

(318 words)


Shaw published a booklet containing (mostly) the names and addresses of prostitutes, indicating that such ladies were open to being ed about their sexual services. Shaw claimed to have intended to assist prostitutes’ trade as they were taken off the streets by a legislative change. He pleaded not guilty to charges of conspiracy to corrupt public morals, living on earnings of prostitution and publishing an obscene Article.


At trial, several prostitutes confirmed that Shaw’s advertisements helped their business and that they paid for his services. The jury was not directed about Shaw’s honesty of purpose and convicted him. Shaw’s appeal was rejected by the Court of Criminal Appeal. The Court held that the test of obscenity under s.1(1) of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 was whether the Article caused likely readers to be depraved or corrupted by it – i.e. obscenity was based on the Article and not its author, so the author’s honesty of purpose should be irrelevant.


The House of Lords found that for the purposes of s.30(1) of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, a person is living on the earnings of prostitution if prostitutes paid him for his services to them which were for the purpose of their prostitution (i.e. Shaw would not have supplied his services if the ladies in question were not prostitutes). As to the conspiracy to corrupt public morals, it was a common law misdemeanor and evidence about it was properly left to the jury. Conspiracy lay in the fact that Shaw agreed to corrupt public morals by intending to publish the booklet (i.e. even if the booklet was never published, conspiracy would still have taken place). Lord Reid, dissenting, found that purely supplying services to individuals who happened to be prostitutes did not make Shaw someone who lived on earnings of prostitution. He also disagreed with the existence of a general offence of conspiracy to corrupt public morals.

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