Turing law: Thousands of gay men to be posthumously pardoned

New plan will clear those convicted of crimes since abolished, but does not go far enough, says campaigners

Alan Turing

Thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted of abolished sexual offences are to receive posthumous pardons, the government has announced.

The "hugely important" move will see those convicted for consensual same-sex relationships formally pardoned, reports the Daily Telegraph.

It honours a government commitment made after World War II codebreaker Alan Turing was pardoned in 2013 over a 1952 conviction for gross indecency with a 19-year-old man.

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Under the move, which has been dubbed the "Turing law", deceased people who were convicted of sexual acts that are no longer deemed criminal will receive an automatic pardon, while those still living will have the opportunity to have their names cleared through the disregard process, which removes any mention of an offence from criminal record checks.

Justice minister Sam Gyimah said the government would implement the change through an amendment to the policing and crime bill.

"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," he said.

However, he added, the government would not be supporting a separate private member's bill calling for a "blanket pardon" to be given without need for the disregard process.

"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," said Gyimah.

"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."

Paul Twocock, from Stonewall, which campaigns for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, told The Guardian the charity welcomed the announcement but disagreed with the government's interpretation of the private member's bill.

He said: "It explicitly excludes pardoning anyone convicted of offences that would still be illegal today, including non-consensual sex and sex with someone under 16."

Nor does the move go far enough for some of those convicted in the past. George Montague, who was found guilty of gross indecency with a man in 1974, told BBC Newsnight he wanted an apology, not a pardon.

He said: "To accept a pardon means you accept that you were guilty. I was not guilty of anything. I was only guilty of being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

The Lib Dem peer behind the private member's bill that was instrumental in securing the pardon for Mr Turing said he could understand why some people may not want a pardon, or may "feel that it's wrong".

But, Lord Sharkey told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "A pardon is probably the best way of acknowledging the real harm done by the unjust and cruel homophobic laws, which thankfully we've now repealed, and I do hope that a lot of people will feel exactly the same way."

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/oct/20/posthumous-pardons-law-may-see-oscar-wilde-exonerated

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