Justice Minister: Turing’s Law will go ahead as promised – I’m not sorry for blocking a rival bill
Justice Minister Sam Gyimah came under fire on Friday for filibustering John Nicolson’s Turing Bill – a law to pardon men convicted under historical anti-gay laws. Writing for PinkNews, Mr Gyimah defends and explains his actions.
Any Westminster watchers following the ‘Turing Bill’ debate last week were in danger of getting whiplash.
One day the Government was feted for posthumously pardoning thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted under historic sexual offences, the next day it was slated for “killing the Turing Bill”.
Confused? Perfectly understandable given the blizzard of contradictory headlines that seemed to suggest the Government had performed a spectacular ‘180’ in the space of 24 hours.
That was simply not true – Turing’s Law is going ahead as promised.
There will be posthumous pardons for thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted of historic sexual offences and pardons too, with the right safeguards in place, for those still living who have successfully sought to redress this wrong.
The Conservative manifesto promised to deliver this justice in line with the pardon granted to Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing, who had been convicted of historic sexual offences.
Alan Turing [died by] suicide following his conviction for gross indecency. He was posthumously pardoned in 2013.
We announced last week a posthumous pardon for thousands more gay and bisexual men convicted of now abolished sexual offences. This historic step is hugely important and I am immensely proud to be part of a Government that is putting Turing’s Law onto the Statute book.
This will be achieved swiftly, within two months, because the Government is supporting an amendment to the Protection of Freedoms Act, 2012. This amendment has been tabled to the Policing and Crime Bill by Lib Dem peer and campaigner Lord Sharkey.
Those still living are already able to redress this wrong through the disregard process, run by the Home Office. This too was created by an alliance between the Conservatives and Lib Dems – working together to introduce the landmark Protection of Freedoms Act.
This is a straightforward process amounting to a two page application to the Home Office. Officials carry out the necessary checks and, if approved, the criminal record is expunged.
Hundreds of people have successfully applied through this process and received justice for themselves and I would encourage many more to do so.
In addition to posthumous pardons, our changes will also deliver pardons to all those who are successful in the disregard process.
They do not, however, have the support of the Scottish Nationalist Party whose MP John Nicolson introduced his own Bill proposing blanket pardons for the living and the dead.
Mr Nicolson deserves applause and recognition for the work he has done in highlighting this injustice.
The Government supports the principles behind Mr Nicolson’s Bill but it could not support how these proposals would work in practice.
On the face of it, blanket pardons for the living seem like a straightforward and fair way to deliver justice but, however well-intentioned Mr Nicolson is, this Bill is ill-thought out and potentially damaging.
The problem arises because the historic offence of “gross indecency” also covers acts that are still crimes today – such as sex with someone under the age of 16 and non-consensual sex.
How to separate out the innocent from the still guilty?
Mr Nicolson says, blithely, these people would be exempt from his blanket pardon.
How? By the wave of a magic wand?
A blanket pardon – in trying to deliver justice for the innocent majority – would encompass those convicted of offences that rightly remain criminal acts today.
The only way to ensure this does not happen is to undergo the thorough Home Office checks that take place before a disregard is approved.
These comprehensive checks have indeed weeded out cases where people have applied for disregards only for officials to discover they have had non-consensual sex or sex with a minor.
However it is important to stress the disregard process has also delivered justice and removed the criminal records of hundreds more convicted of an historic sex offence.
A blanket pardon for the living could see someone guilty of an offence that is still a crime today laying claim to being pardoned. Imagine how distressing that would be for their victim or their victim’s family.
We need to make sure proper safeguards are in place to protect victims. Our Turing’s Law achieves that.
Mr Nicolson was warned weeks ago that the Government could not support his Bill and why.
He chose to press on. He also chose to ignore my offer, made in the Commons last Friday, to withdraw his Bill and work with the cross-party alliance behind Turing’s Law.
His refusal left the Government no choice but to kill off a proposal we feared could cause unnecessary distress to some even as it sought to deliver justice to others.
So Turing’s Law will be enacted within weeks. There will be posthumous pardons for thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted of now abolished sexual offences. There will also be pardons for all those living who have successfully applied through the disregard process.
Some people have said what the living really want is an apology, not a pardon.
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Well I can say that I personally am sorry that so many men died without ever seeing justice done.
I am sorry that not so long ago our great nation was blighted by ignorance and blind to a simple fact – that love is love.
But I am not sorry for killing off Nicolson’s Bill. No matter how well-meaning his intentions, the consequences of his proposals threatened fresh heartache.
You cannot right a wrong by creating a fresh injustice.
You can right a wrong by putting aside party politics and uniting behind a just cause.
That is what the Conservative, Labour and Lib Dems leaders have done – I would urge the SNP to follow suit.
Mr Gyimah is the Member of Parliament for East Surrey and a junior Justice Minister