A new law was announced this morning that means that thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted under laws which criminalised consensual homosexual acts will receive a pardon.
According to the BBC, Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said it was “hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today”.
A pardon is a public declaration that a person who was once convicted of a crime is no longer guilty, as if they had never been convicted. They are particularly important when someone has been for convicted for something that is no longer a crime. Pardons are made by the Queen on the advice of Government ministers.
The role of human rights
Homosexual acts ceased to be a criminal offence in 1967 in England and Wales, but not in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In 1981, Northern Irish Jeffrey Dudgeon took a case to the European Court of Human Rights the Court. It ruled that Northern Ireland’s criminalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults, violated his right to respect for his private and family life. This lead to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Scotland in 1981 and in Northern Ireland in 1982. See here for the full story.
Why today’s news is important
The law is being referred to as ‘Turing’s Law‘. Alan Turing (pictured) was a computer scientist and code breaker during the Second World War. He was recently played by Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game. Turing was gay and in 1952 was convicted of the crime of Gross Indecency. He committed suicide in 1954. In 2013, he received a posthumous (after death) pardon from the Queen.
Currently, people who were convicted under the old law can apply to the Home Office to remove the offence from their criminal records. This is known as the “disregard process”.
Under the new law, once this “disregard process” is completed, they will automatically receive a statutory pardon. This will be done through an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill.
- For more on how human rights help equality see here.
- Information from the BBC and Law & Religion UK.