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UK to pardon thousands of men convicted under historic anti-gay laws

UK to pardon thousands of men convicted under historic anti-gay laws

Alan Turing was pardoned in 2013

Thousands of gay and bisexual men in the UK will be pardoned for consensual sex convictions which are no longer illegal.

The Conservative government’s move, deemed ‘hugely important’ by Justice Minister Sam Gyimah, will formally pardon men convicted under Britain’s gross indecency laws.

Homoseuxality was decriminalized in England and Wales in 1967; Scotland followed in 1980 and Northern Ireland in 1982.

The age of consent for same-sex relationships was lowered to 16 in 2001 (2009 in Northern Ireland), bringing it level with law for straight couples.

The government agreed to support a legal amendment introduced by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey, who called it a ‘momentous day’ for thousands of UK families campaigning on the issue.

‘I am very grateful for the government’s support and the support of many of my colleagues in parliament,’ he said.

‘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 before homosexuality was decriminalized in 1967 and which would not be crimes today.’

In 2013, Sharkey set a precedent in the matter when he secured a one-off royal pardon for Alan Turing.

The maths genius, who helped defeat the Nazi forces in World War II by breaking their codes and is often credites as the father of modern computers, was convicted of gross indecency with a 19-year-old man in 1952.

Instead of being given a prison sentence, Turing was chemically castrated; he died in 1954 from cyanide poisoning, which was ruled as suicide.

The change could also clear the name of playwright Oscar Wilde – but the Ministry of Justice has yet to reach a decision, because it is difficult to judge the age of some of the playwright’s lovers who testified against him.

Men convicted under the gross indecency laws who are still alive will have to apply to the Home Office to have the conviction struck off their record and receive a pardon.

The amendment is also an interpretation of a private members bill introduced by MP John Nicholson, which will have its second reading in Parliament on Friday, 21 October.

Nicholson’s bill would grant a blanket pardon to men convicted under anti-gay laws, as long as their alleged crime is not illegal today.

The Justice Minister has said the Government will not support Nicholson’s bill and wants living people to apply and go through the disregard process.

‘I understand and support the intentions behind Mr Nicolson’s Bill, however I worry that he has not fully thought through the consequences,’ Minister 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.’

Critics to the Government’s announcement have said the bill isn’t enough, as a majority of men were convicted for sex in public toilets, meaning they cannot be pardoned.

‘We welcome the Government announcement to issue a posthumous pardon to all gay and bi men unjustly prosecuted for being who they are, but we don’t think it goes far enough,’ said Paul Twocock, Stonewall’s Director of campaigns, policy and research.

‘It explicitly excludes pardoning anyone convicted of offences that would still be illegal today, including non-consensual sex and sex with someone under 16.’