Italy's Supreme Court has ruled public masturbation is not a crime, clearing a 69-year-old man who was arrested for masturbating in front of university students in Catania.

CNN reported Italy's highest court made the ruling with the added caveat that masturbating in front of minors remains a criminal offence. If the act is witnessed by a minor it carries a possible four-and- a-half year sentence.

The man — who has been identified only as 'PL' — was convicted in May 2015 after he was caught masturbating in the city on Sicily's eastern coast. He was sentenced to three months imprisonment and ordered to pay €3,200.

PL's lawyer successfully appealed against the ruling in June, but it has only just been made public now. The Supreme court stated masturbation not in the presence of minors is no longer deemed a criminal conduct due to a change in the law last year. The act has essentially been decriminalised as a result.

As a result, the court has overturned PL's sentence. The case has been returned to local courts in Catania to determine an administrative fine which will range between €5,000 ($5,651) and €30,000 ($33,912).