INCEST (Lat. inceslus, unchaste), sexual intercourse between persons so related by kindred or affinity that legal marriage cannot take place between them (see MARRIAGE, especially the section Canon Law), In England incest formerly was not generally treated as a crime, although, along with other offences against morals, it was made punishable by death in 1650. Since the Restoration it had, to use Blackstone's phrase, been left to the " feeble coercion of the spiritual courts," but bills to make it a criminal offence have at various times been unsuccessfully introduced in Parliament. In 1908 however, an act (The Punishment of Incest Act 1908) was passed, under which sexual intercourse of a male with his grand-daughter, daughter, sister or mother is made punishable with penal servitude for not less than 3 or more than 7 years, or with imprisonment for not more than two years with or without hard, labour. It is immaterial that the sexual intercourse was had with the consent of the female; indeed, by s. 2 a female who consents is on conviction liable to the same punishment as the male. The act also makes an attempt to commit the offence of incest a misdemeanour, punishable by imprisonment for not more than two years with or without hard labour. The terms " brother " and " sister " include half-brother and half-sister, whether the relationship is or is not traced through lawful wedlock. All proceedings under the act are held in camera (s. 5). The act does not apply to Scotland, incest being punishable in Scots law. Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, s. 27, incestuous adultery is per se sufficient ground to entitle a wife to divorce her husband. The Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907, s. 3, retained wives' sisters in the class of persons with whom adultery is incestuous. In the law of Scotland, it was, until the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1887, a crime nominally punishable with death, but the penalty usually inflicted was penal servitude for life. This sentence was actually pronounced on a man in 1855. In the United States incest is not an indictable offence at common law, but, generally speaking, it has been made punishable by fine and imprisonment by state legislation. It is also a punishable offence in some European countries, notably Germany, Austria and Italy.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)