The UK government has announced that thousands of gay and bisexual men will be posthumously pardoned for convictions they received under historic anti-gay laws.
This particular pledge was made in the Conservative party manifesto back in 2015, and it’s fulfillment was announced today by Justice Minister Sam Gyimah. As we already know codebreaker Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a posthumous pardon back in 2013.
The new law, however, will be offering pardons to thousands of men convicted under those same laws. Previous to this, anyone convicted of the abolished offenses could apply through the Home Office to have their records expunged and clear their name, but the new law goes even further.
The new law brings a statutory pardon into play for the living, in cases where offences have been successfully deleted through the disregard process.
The Alan Turing law is the result of decades of campaigning from the LGBT community and the Turing family, who delivered a petition to Downing Street just before the 2015 election. Public pressure then resulted in major parties pledging to bring the Alan Turing law into play.
Rachel Barnes, the great niece of Mr Turing, praised the decision as “absolutely tremendous”.
She said: “This is a momentous day for all those who have been convicted under the historic laws, and for their families. The gross indecency law ruined peoples’ lives. As Alan Turing received a pardon, it is absolutely right that those who were similarly convicted should receive a pardon as well. It is great news for all those who have worked so hard for years to bring about this new legislation”.
Minister Gyimah has said that the Government will implement the new law with amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill.
The amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill was put forward by the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey, who said: “I am very grateful for the Government’s support and the support of many of my colleagues in Parliament. It is a wonderful thing that we have been able to build on the pardon granted to Alan Turing during Coalition by extending it to the thousands of men convicted of sexual offences that existed before homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967 and which would not be crimes today.”
Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said: “It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today. Through pardons and the existing disregard process we will meet our manifesto commitment to put right these wrongs.”
The Government is proposing a blanket pardon for the living without the need to go through the disregard process. However, there are concerns about this as gay sex convictions do not distinguish between different types of acts. For example, a blanket pardon could lead to people claiming to be cleared of offences that are still crimes, such as sex with a minor and non-consensual sexual activity.
Gyimah said: “A blanket pardon, without the detailed investigations carried out by the Home Office under the disregard process, could see people guilty of an offence which is still a crime today claiming to be pardoned. This would cause an extraordinary and unnecessary amount of distress to victims and for this reason the Government cannot support the Private Member’s Bill. Our way forward will be both faster and fairer.”