The law in the UK is frankly a mess because older cases involved homosexualilty at a time when it was illegal and when there were therefore policy decisions. it would appear that normal BDSM is OK and that causing severe bruising of a willing but submissive partner is assault but only if the welts are more than transient or the behaviour excessive; however the status of the law is unclear because it would appear that consent to actual bodily harm removes the offence of assault (ABH) in consentual BDSM in the same way that consent removes it in boxing or football. Since the Equality Act, it would appear in the UK that normal BDSM if genuinely consentual is OK ……. and the overriding lesson is get it in a written contract and do so at the start of a relationship so there is no assertion of fear or undue influence in the signing of the contract.

Relevant Cases:

R v Brown 1994 (gay) – consent not defence to ABH (convicted for nettles being rubbed onto nipples, testicles being held with spiked gloves, scrotums being sandpapered and foreskins being mailed to wooden boards.
(Upheld by European Court of Human Rights in Laskey v UK 1997)

R v Wilson 1996,(hetero)  the defendant heated a knife and branded his initials on his partners bottom with her consent and it was held to be like a tattoo and with consent and within a proper relationship, so Wilson was acquitted.

Sutton v Mishcon de Reya (2003)(gay)  EWHC 3166, all about enforceablility of contracts and whether there is undue influence in the signing of the contract.

R v Walsh 2012, (gay) the Court acquitted the defendant having found pictures of a private sex party with willing adults engaged in fisting and urethral sounding (I had to look it up too, its medical probes being placed into the urethra – CV) and in which the acts were deemed not extreme because they were commonplace in the relevant community. The Brown convictions appear to be the wrong side of the line because they involved a group of men carrying out activities not normal in the gay BDSM community and which carried an unpredictably dangerous activity.

R v Raymond Hodgson (2012) (hetero – but no physical harm) The case arose where Raymond Hodgson was charged with common assault (pleading guilty) because after a row, he then squirted brown sauce over his girlfriend for reading 50 Shades in order to show her what saucy meant. He intended to demean his girlfriend and there was no issue of any consent.

R v Lock 2013 : The latest 50 Shares case, R v Steven Lock 2013 resulted in an acquittal …..and is probably a case of a Sub rather than a Slave. The complainant went to Mr Lock’s flat and during the course of a 50-shades inspired session, she was tied up and whipped. Too hard she said although she admitted that there had been numerous blows and that she hadn’t used an agreed safety or stop word “Red”. Lock went into another room leaving her bound and she texted a friend for help. She then refused sex and left the flat and just after that the police arrived. The written contract and tattoo on her body saying “Property of Steven Lock” helped to establish consent and obtain his acquittal.

In Walsh and in Lock, the events were not criminal because of provable consent (Lock had a written contract and Walsh’s video proved consent), and because they were normal within BDSM. In Lock, the complainant admitted the existence of a safety word and that she had not used it although lock would have been wise to gradually increase the level of any corporal punishment rather than to start it at full power.)

Assault is however a strange thing because it has a very low threshold – for example, slapping a woman’s bottom is assault, however gently it is done, unless she has consented to it and

Prize fighting without boxing gloves is illegal but boxing in legal and it’s all to do with safety. Asked to explain the difference between R v Wilson and R v Brown, Master Charles said “Its difficult to distinguish the two cases, except that Wilson was hetero and Brown homosexual at a time when homosexuality was illegal, and that Brown was extreme and involved a group of men in a sadomasochistic event whereas Wilson was two individuals (and similarly Walsh involved consenting couples at a sex party).

It is now thought that R v Brown is out of date, but might still result in a conviction because of the extreme nature of the act of nailing the foreskin to wood. It is considered that genuinely consentual and informed BSDM which is not extreme (minor electric shocks, corporal punishment not leaving welts visible the next day, nettles being rubbed onto nipples, testicles being held with spiked gloves, probably OK – but sandpapering testicles and nailing foreskins probably not OK for health reasons (although ….. if consentual and demonstratively sterile to medical standards, then ……).

In short if it is no more dangerous than a game of football or boxing match, then you’re probably OK if you have consent, after all a boxer can always throw in the towel just as a Submissive can always shout RED!