Are you looking to get a historical conviction for a consensual gay sex offence removed from your record? Get in touch – see below.
The government introduced a statutory pardon for men with historic convictions for consensual gay sex offences. The pardon only applies to men who have successfully applied to the Home Office to have their conviction disregarded.
We are concerned about the accessibility of the disregard scheme and the appeal process, which does not appear to be meeting its intended aim of allowing the men in this situation get convictions removed from their records. The number of men who have applied under the scheme since it was introduced in 2012 is extremely low: according to information obtained by the Public Law Project (PLP) under the Freedom of Information Act, as at 7 June 2016 there had only been 320 applications, 83 of which have been successful. None of the unsuccessful applicants has exercised their right of appeal to the High Court.
We have concerns about the application process. Chris Bryant MP summed up the problem in his contribution to the Second Reading of Sexual Offences (Pardons) Bill in October 2016:
There is a real problem about trying to force people to go through another process. For someone now in their 70s or 80s, the conviction might have been like a brand on them for their entire life. It might have caused terrible problems in their family life. It might have meant that they were never able to do the job that they wanted to do, such as a teacher not being able to go back to teaching. Friends and relatives might have shunned them. It might have made them feel terribly ashamed. Why on earth would they want to write to the Home Secretary, asking, “Please may I be pardoned?” Why on earth would they want to go through that process all over again? Why on earth would they want someone to analyse whether they were guilty of something way back when?
We are also concerned that not all repealed gay sex offences have been included under the disregard scheme. For example, at the moment men convicted or cautioned for an offence under section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 (solicitation by men), cannot have their crime deleted because it was missed off the list of offences that could be disregarded in 2012. The government has acknowledged that it was used in a discriminatory way against gay men. Section 32 was used as recently as the 1990s to arrest men for simply trying to chat up another man in a public place, often in stings by plain-clothes police officers outside gay pubs. It was repealed in 2003 along with the gross indecency, buggery and other laws used against gay and bi men.
Clearly, people unjustly convicted or cautioned in this way should be able to delete that unfair conviction. The offence is categorised as a sex offence, and so a conviction or caution for this offence can be disclosed on a DBS check to employers indefinitely.
The government committed in its manifesto to issue a pardon to everyone convicted under old offences like gross indecency, often used to target gay and bi men.
The Turing Bill sought a blanket pardon for all gay and bi men – living or deceased – in recognition of this injustice; the government’s response did not. It instead offered only an automatic posthumous pardon, leaving out thousands of gay and bi men who are still living. We agree with Stonewall that a pardon should be automatic for all those affected, including the 15,000 men still alive. This would exclude anyone convicted of offences that would still be illegal today, including non-consensual sex and sex with someone under 16, but would go some way to righting a significant wrong for many thousands of people.
The incredibly low numbers of people applying for their (now decriminalised) consensual gay sex convictions to be disregarded are sadly not surprising. The fact that people have to apply is a clear barrier to accessing justice. It causes people understandable anguish when faced with a Home Office form which forces them to show why their application should be granted for something that they might have felt branded and ashamed of for much of their life. It was therefore inevitable that few people would apply and the result is that the policy does not appear to be meeting its intended aim of allowing the men in this situation to get the convictions removed from their records. The disregard and pardoning schemes could easily be done proactively by the Home Office, and this would show the government to be committed to righting the wrongs of the past.
We believe the UK government should issue a general pardon to all gay and bi men who were prosecuted under these unjust laws.
This is a clear opportunity for the government to unequivocally make amends for the actions of past governments who instituted these laws. It is time for the government to apologise to all those affected, those convicted, and their loved ones.
The Police and Crime Act 2017, referred to at the time as ‘Turnings Law”, had the impact of posthumously pardoning thousands of gay and bisexual men. However, although it applies to those still alive, a pardon only applies to those who have successfully applied through the Home Office disregard process to have historic offences removed, and we know that the numbers of people that apply through this process is very low and the application process itself often acts as an unnecessary obstacle.
What we’re doing
We are supporting the work other organisations that are looking to challenge the accessibility of the disregard scheme and the appeal process.
Are you looking to get a historical conviction for a consensual gay sex offence removed from your record?
If you’re looking to get a historical conviction for a consensual gay sex offence removed from your record, but you believe the current process acts as a barrier – for example, you’re embarrassed to have to apply – please email the details (in confidence) to email@example.com.
September 2019 – Alan Turing law: Gay, unjustly convicted – and now denied a pardon
November 2016 – George Montague, the 93-year-old activist, handed a petition into 10 Downing Street calling for an apology from the Government to the estimated 65,000 gay and bi men who, like him, were hounded and convicted under old discriminatory sexual offences laws.
October 2016 – Scotland to pardon gay men convicted under outdated laws – Holyrood’s justice secretary, Michael Matheson, told the chamber that the parliament would bring forward a Scottish “Turing law” to automatically pardon gay and bisexual men convicted of sexual offences that are no longer criminal.
October 2016 – Prisons Minister scuppers plans to given automatic pardons – Plans for a law in England and Wales to automatically pardon men convicted under obsolete laws relating to gross indecency with other men were scuppered by the Conservative justice minister, Sam Gyimah, after he spoke so long that the Bill ran out of time. Gyimah’s behaviour attracted cross-party condemnation after the private member’s bill, put forward by John Nicolson of the SNP, failed to pass to its next stage in the Commons. Nicolson’s bill would have given an automatic pardon to men convicted under the obsolete laws relating to gross indecency with other men. It would go further than an amendment to the policing and crime bill proposed by the government, which only pardons the thousands of men who are already dead, while the living will have to apply to the Home Office to get their convictions ‘disregarded’ before being pardoned. Ministers had earlier that week announced that that about 40,000 dead people will be pardoned, three years after a posthumous pardon was issued to the second world war codebreaker Alan Turing for the offence of gross indecency. But out of the 65,000 men convicted under the abolished laws, about 15,000 are still alive and will have to go through an administrative process in order to obtain a pardon.
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For more information
- Practical self-help information – We have guidance on removing historical convictions and cautions for consensual gay sex from criminal records on our information site
- Discuss this issue – Share your views and experiences on our online forum