Britain has pardoned thousands of gay men for offences that were once considered criminal in relation to homosexuality. A new law has led to many people with a criminal past to see their offences which are no longer part of the statute book have their records wiped clean.
This will apply mostly to people who have passed away. A new clause in the policing and crime bill received Royal assent on Tuesday making it possible.
The pardon is based on the Royal pardon granted by the Queen to the Enigma code breaking mathematician Alan Turin. He killed himself in 1954 after being convicted of gross indecency at the age of 41.
Sam Gyimak, justice minister said, “This is a truly momentous day. We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologised and taken action to right these wrongs. I am immensely proud that ‘Turing’s law’ has become a reality under this government.”
Pardon for the Living
Prior to the clause, a procedure is in place that allows people convicted of past sexual offences that are now no longer seen as breaking the law to apply to have them removed from their records. This is called disregard.
Normally, a disregard is granted if the sexual relationship was consensual, both men were over 16 and they were not arrested for having sex in a public lavatory. Each application is thoroughly checked to ensure that it is a genuine case.
Although no lists of past pardons will be published, the new law will allow historians to pinpoint offences relating to consensual gay relationships that would in our present times not be considered a crime.
The gay rights organisation Stonewall has suggested that playwright Oscar Wilde should be given a pardon for his 1895 conviction for gross indecency. His case is arguably a grey area as he was hiring male prostitutes.
The law has been broadly welcomed by campaigners.