Is it legal to be taps aff in public? Scotland's laws explained for anyone going topless in the summer weather

Sunbathing topless in Scotland's park is fairly common - but is it legal?
Sunbathing topless in Scotland's park is fairly common - but is it legal?
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As summer creeps ever nearer and temperatures begin to rise into the double digits, many Brits will be feeling the heat a lot sooner than those acclimatised to warmer weather.

The sight of pasty Scottish skin filling the local park as soon as the sun comes out is a common one, and many of us like to go "taps aff" at the earliest chance.

Edinburgh's Portobello beach is a common sunbathing spot during hot weather.

Edinburgh's Portobello beach is a common sunbathing spot during hot weather.

But what are the rules about public nudity? Do you have to stop at taking your top off, or could you theoretically remove more items of clothing?

The rules are blurry, but simply put, if you're not causing offence to the people around you, it's technically not illegal to be naked in a public place.

However, with young children and vulnerable older citizens on the streets (and a general prudishness around nudity in Scotland), it's likely that exposing your more intimate areas will cause discomfort to those around you.

There are two offences you could be arrested for in the UK when going nude in public: outraging public decency - a common law offence - and indecent exposure.

Outraging Public Decency

Outraging Public Decency makes it a crime to perform actions or displays in public places that are of "such a lewd character as to outrage public decency" and which "took place in public and must have been capable of being seen by two or more persons who were present, even if they did not actually see it."

However, don't go thinking that you can whip off your clothes if you happen to have the local park to yourself.

A Law Commission report recommended in 2015 that it should no longer be a requirement for two people to be present.

That law is yet to make it through parliament at the time of writing, but if it does, the person taking their clothes off must be aware that he or she might be in a public place, and that "the act or display was of such a nature as to cause outrage to ordinary people."

Indecent Exposure

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 outlines that it is a prosecutable offence for a person to:

a) intentionally expose his/her genitals, or

b) intend for someone to be alarmed or distressed by his/her appearance

The legislation is aimed primarily at 'flashers' - it's worded in such a way to avoid the prosecution of naturists who do not intend for people to be alarmed or distressed by their appearance.

Where it appears that the person has not acted for the purpose of sexual gratification or causing fear and alarm, they will not normally be prosecuted.

Under Scots law, "indecent conduct" in a public place, such as exposing the genitals, can constitute the offence of "public indecency".

Naked rambler, Stephen Gough, attempted to hike from Lands End to John o' Groats wearing only shoes in 2005.

He was arrested in both England and Scotland, with different consequences in each.

In Scotland he was convicted under public-order legislation and spent time in prison for contempt of court when challenging his convictions.

Is it ok for women to go topless?

Of course, it's harder for women to enjoy the sun.

While men can whip their "taps aff" at the slightest hint of warm weather, for a woman to do the same would be different, even in the hottest sunshine.

It's considered by law to be indecent exposure if a woman's nipples are free of clothing and clearly visible (again to at least two people).

As fashions and attitudes towards womens' bodies continue to change though, cleavage and ‘side boob’ are not normally considered indecent.

Are there any nudist beaches in Scotland?

It's usually far too cold for even the most vehement naturist to take their clothes off outdoors in Scotland.

However if you take the urge to strip off, there are a surprising number of nudist beaches around the country, including:

Aberlady - East Lothian

Findhorn - Moray Firth

Ardeer - North Ayrshire

Kinshaldy Beach - Tentsmuir Forest, Fife

Balmedie - Aberdeen

Tyninghame - East Lothian

Kearvaig - Sutherland

Cleats Shore - Lagg, Isle of Arran

Crackaig - Sutherland

For more information on nudist clubs and events in Scotland, go to Naked Scotland's website.

Taps oan

In theory, you could walk completely naked down the street, and have nobody bat an eyelid, but the chances of that happening are rare.

The long and short of it is, if you're not in an area designated as a safe space for nudity (such as a naturist beach), you're best to keep your more intimate areas covered up.

Going shirtless (for men) will not usually incur any kind of trouble, unless the person involved is exposing their chest in a "threatening abusive or insulting way, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress."

And it's worth remembering that if you do choose to go nude, you should respond calmly if you are challenged about your nudity and cover up if asked to do so by the police.

"Intent" is only one factor in constructing a case for prosecution - "context" is also taken into account across the UK, and so it's dependent on those around you as to how offensive your public nudity may be.

According to travel advice site Trip Savvy, in Scotland "where people are less tolerant of public nudity," you are "much more likely to end up in the slammer".

In 2016, Lanarkshire Police made a humorous post to Facebook in which they warned against people "in clear contravention of Lanarkshire bylaws, which explicitly restrict the practice to 'Taps aff at 20'".