Government rejects calls to posthumously pardon men convicted of homosexuality

July 22, 2014
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The government has rejected calls for convictions for homosexual acts to be posthumously disregarded.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey had tabled an amendment, but it was withdrawn last night following protests by the government.

Justice Minister Lord Faulks said such an amendment would introduce a “disproportionate burden” on the police and Home Office.

Lord Sharkey spearheaded the amendment after a posthumous royal pardon was given late last year to codebreaker Alan Turing.

Turing was prosecuted for gross indecency in 1952, after having a relationship with another man.

He killed himself in 1954, two years after being sentenced to chemical castration for being gay.

Lord Sharkey said 75,000 men were convicted of homosexual acts under laws repealed in the 1960s.

Legislation passed in 2012, gave 16,000 of them still alive the right to apply to have their convictions disregarded.

But this left 59,000 similarly convicted but now dead unable to get such redress.

Referencing a Pet Shop Boys produced song honouring Alan Turing, which will be performed next Wednesday at the Royal Albert Hall, Lord Sharkey told peers: “Under the dreadful Labouchère amendment of 1885 and other equally dreadful laws, 75,000 men were convicted of homosexual acts.”

He added: “Our amendment simply sets out to give equal treatment to all those gay men convicted under the cruel and homophobic Labouchère amendment and other Acts. It sets out to treat the dead and the living equally.

“It would bring closure to an extremely unhappy period in our criminal law. It would give comfort to the relatives, friends and supporters of those gay men convicted but now dead. It would help to put right a serious historical injustice.”

Conservative peer Lord Black of Brentwood signalled his support for the amendment, suggesting it was wrong to treat the dead differently from those still alive. He also praised the role of PinkNews.

The peer said: “If it is right that those who are alive can have quashed, under the Protection of Freedoms Act, convictions for a range of what were once sexual offences between consenting adults of the same sex, why cannot those who died before the law caught up with changes in society? To make a distinction between the living and the dead in this way seems to me to be wholly irrational.”

Lord Black continued: “Second is the question of equity and fairness. It is absolutely right that a pardon was granted to Alan Turing, whose tragic case served to highlight the plight of those who had criminal records for acts that should never have been crimes. However, what of the families and decedents of ordinary people?

“As the noble Lord (Sharkey) said, there were up to 60,000 of them over the many generations when a sexual act between men was an offence. Benjamin Cohen, the campaigning publisher of PinkNews, which does so much to stand up for the rights of the gay community, made the point well in a letter to me:

‘Almost as soon as the Protection of Freedoms Bill was passed, PinkNews readers questioned why those who had passed away could never have their name cleared, and the royal pardon granted to Alan Turing also posed many questions. Why him and not others, and not just famous people like Oscar Wilde?’”

Lord Black added: “That question needs to be answered. The noble Lord’s amendment does just that.”

Support also came from Labour peers Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Lord Beecham who both spoke out in favour of the amendment.

But it was withdrawn after Justice Minister Lord Faulks said such an amendment would introduce a “disproportionate burden” on public resources at a time of limited resources, which could not be justified.

“The government are concerned this would place a disproportionate burden on existing resources at the Home Office and on the police service. “

He added: “I appreciate that there is a feeling that something ought to be done to right an historic injustice.”

Lord Sharkey branded Lord Faulks’ response “legalistic and mean-spirited”.

More: England, gay men, Homosexuality, lord black, same-sex sexual activity

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