Thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted of now abolished sexual offences will be posthumously pardoned, Justice Minister Sam Gyimah announced last week (20 October 2016).
The change will see those convicted for consensual same-sex relationships before the change in the law formally pardoned.
Minister Gyimah said the government would seek to implement the change through an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill.
Anyone living who has been convicted of these now abolished offences can already apply through the Home Office to have their names cleared through the disregard process. This removes any mention of an offence from criminal record checks.
The government also announced today it will introduce a new statutory pardon for the living in cases where offences have been successfully deleted through the disregard process.
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 announcement means that the government will honour a commitment to build on the case of Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing, who committed suicide following his conviction for gross indecency and was posthumously pardoned by Her Majesty the Queen in 2013.
It appears that the government will support an amendment by Lib Dem peer Lord Sharkey to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 through the Policing and Crime Bill would be the quickest way to deliver this commitment.
The government will not support a separate Private Members’ Bill on the subject, brought forward by John Nicolson MP and set to be debated in Parliament on Friday 21 October 2016. Mr Nicolson’s Bill proposes a blanket pardon for the living without the need to go through the disregard process.
This is because the government says that this approach could lead, in some cases, to people claiming to be cleared of offences that are still crimes – including sex with a minor and non-consensual sexual activity.
The Home Office has already rejected several applications through the “disregard” process where the activity was non-consensual and others where the other party was under 16-years-old. These offences were captured under offences such as ‘gross indecency’ at the time but are still crimes today. [See this helpful explanation of the disregard process by Unlock.]
Mr Gyimah said:
I understand and support the intentions behind Mr Nicolson’s Bill, however I worry that he has not fully thought through the consequences. 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.
Although it is very welcome to have an injustice of such a large scale put right, it seems sadly British that the main motivation appears to be a movie which came out 60 years after his suicide.