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Prime Minister: Pardons for gay sex offences will help ‘right the wrongs’ of the past

Nick Duffy February 6, 2017
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Prime Minister Theresa May

Prime Minister Theresa May has welcomed the passage of a law that will posthumously pardon men with historical gay sex convictions.

The change was made last week as the Policing and Crime Act was given Royal Assent – after the government accepted a Lib Dem-led amendment to issue posthumous pardons to men convicted under the UK’s historical anti-gay laws.

Computing hero Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency under anti-gay laws in 1952, was granted a one-off posthumous royal pardon in 2013 – a privilege that the new Act extends to thousands of men.

Anyone living with historical gay sex convictions could already apply through the Home Office to have their criminal records expunged under a process introduced by the Coalition government’s 2012 Protections of Freedoms Act. The Policing and Crime Act also extends this, enabling living men to apply for a pardon.

Speaking in Parliament last week, Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed the change, following a question from MP Stuart Andrew.

She said: “I am very happy to join [Mr Andrew] in welcoming an extremely important change in the law.

“We committed to it in our manifesto and have now delivered on it. Passing Turing’s law has been a long-standing commitment for the Government.

“It is momentous and takes action to right the wrongs of the past. Like my hon. Friend, I certainly encourage those still alive to apply to the Home Office to have their offences disregarded.”

Mrs May was angrily challenged by the SNP’s John Nicolson, who had fielded his own rival backbench legislation on the issue and refused to withdraw it to back the cross-party plan.

Mr Nicolson’s bill would have extended automatic pardons to the living, but the government favoured an application system – citing some surviving men who have indicated they do not want to pursue the issue.

The SNP politician said: “A few moments ago, the Prime Minister tried to claim credit for passing Stonewall’s Turing Bill. She did not; the Turing Bill pardons all gay men found guilty of crimes no longer on the statute book. When will the Prime Minister follow the Scottish Government and automatically pardon the living as well as the dead?”

The PM hit back: “It was during my time as Home Secretary that the [original] legislation was introduced that gives those who are alive the opportunity to apply to the Home Office to have those offences that are no longer on the statute book expunged from their record.”

When Mr Nicolson contended that “they are not [applying]”, the PM said: “The hon. Gentleman says that they are not doing it.

“In this Chamber today my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey [Stuart Andrew] and I have both encouraged people to come forward and make that application, and that is a message that we should all put out.”

The government also issued a public apology for the laws.

The move fulfils the Conservative Party’s 2015 manifesto commitment to to extend the posthumous pardons.

Though pardons have been issued, more than a billion people around the world are still living under anti-gay laws that were made in Britain.

Many Commonwealth countries continue to enforce penal codes that were first introduced under the British Empire, and never repealed.

In total 40 out of the 53 Commonwealth member states still criminalise homosexuality – from Barbados to Saint Lucia, Sri Lanka to Tonga.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Baroness Scotland. recently said the Commonwealth needs to build a consensus on the issue.

Related topics: Gay, home secretary, Law, LGBT, pardons, Prime Minister, Theresa May, Turing

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