Trial of the Century: Lady Chatterley

When Penguin Books was acquitted of obscenity for publishing Lady Chatterley’s Lover, a door was kicked open to the social revolution of the 1960s. Geoffrey Robertson discusses the impact of the trial, a defining moment in modern legal history.

A posed photograph taken the day Lady Chatterley's Lover went on sale, November 1960No trial in British history – other than that of Charles I – has had such profound social and political consequences as the trial of Penguin Books for publishing D.H. Lawrence’s novel of 1928, Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It marked the first symbolic moral battle between the humanitarian force of English liberalism and the dead hand of those described by George Orwell as ‘the striped-trousered ones who rule’; a battle joined in the 1960s by issues such as the legalisation of homosexuality and abortion, abolition of the death penalty and of theatre censorship and reform of the divorce laws, all crucial to human rights. The acquittal of Lady Chatterley on November 2nd, 1960, was the first sign that victory was achievable and with the guidance of the book’s great defender, Gerald Gardiner QC (Labour Lord Chancellor from 1964 to 1970), victory was, in due course, achieved.

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