In May 1650 the “Rump” House of Commons passed an “Act for suppressing the detestable sins of Incest, Adultery and Fornication.”
Adultery by either sex became punishable by death, although if committed by a man with an unmarried woman it was deemed merely “fornication” with a sentence of 3 months imprisonment for a first offence (in a seventeenth century version of the “three strikes” rule it was death for a third offence of fornication). The Adultery Act was so successful in eliminating the detestable sin, that it during its ten years in force it only proved necessary to execute four women, and no men.
However, by 1660 its time was up. Other “Acts” of the Rump Parliament had included the abolition of the House of Lords and the abolition of the monarchy, so upon the restoration of both institutions in 1660 the Adultery Act was no longer recognised as being a validly created law. Since then adultery has not been a criminal offence in England and Wales. The misleadingly entitled tort of “criminal conversation” – it was not criminal and did not require any conversation – lingered on till 1857. Well into the second half of the twentieth century one could in theory obtain damages for adultery, but that ended in 1970. Adultery lingered on in law as a ground for divorce until last year, but with the enactment of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 even that disappeared.
So it was a little odd to read in the Church Times last year that a Southend vicar, Father Bill Bulloch, was cleared of adultery in an English court. Continue reading “The ordeal of Father Bill Bulloch”