A British appeals court dismissed the appeal of a man jailed for raping his estranged wife, throwing out a centuries-old principle that a wife has automatically consented to sex with her husband.

"The time has now arrived when the law should declare that a rapist remains a rapist subject to the criminal law irrespective of his relationship with his victim," said the lord chief justice, Lord Lane, on Thursday."The idea that a wife by marriage consents in advance to her husband having sexual intercourse with her whatever her state of health or however proper her objections is no longer acceptable. It can never have been other than a fiction," said Lane, who headed the five-judge panel.

He called earlier rulings that a woman must always submit to sex with her husband "anachronistic and offensive."

However, the convicted husband asked for and received permission to appeal to the House of Lords, Britain's final court of appeal.

Commenting on Thursday's judgment, Claire Glasman, spokeswoman for Women Against Rape, said: "This is marvelous news for all women. We estimate that around one in seven of all rapes happen in marriage."

The principle that husbands could not rape their wives was first laid down in Britain in 1736.