If a man was convicted for consensual sex under the Sexual Offences Act of 1956 before the legalisation of homosexuality in 1967 his criminal record stands. He is listed on the sex offenders database for having committed ‘gross indecency’. Today, May 1, 2012, a new law received Royal Assent that allows such men to apply to have their criminal record erased. The Protection of Freedoms Act will also apply to men convicted of “loitering with intent” under Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824.
The Protection of Freedoms Act is, of course, welcome, but I have two reservations about it. The first is that one has to apply to have offence removed, and the second is that it does not apply to the dead. One of the reasons that Polari Magazine has emphasised the importance of removing Alan Turing’s conviction for ‘gross indecency’ from the record, as argued in the articles Alan Turing Petition and McNally rejects Turing Pardon, is that it sends an important message about the way we live now. It is about justice not only for the living but for the dead.
That said, the significance of the new law is important, and it makes a complete mockery of Lord McNally statement that a pardon for Turing “was not considered appropriate as Alan Turing was properly convicted of what at the time was a criminal offence. He would have known that his offence was against the law and that he would be prosecuted.” The same can be said of any of the men convicted before 1967.
This is a victory for the groups who have for years lobbied for such a law. It is also a testament to the work of Stonewall, representatives of which gave evidence to the Public Bill Committee on 24 March 2011, and also lobbied the Home Secretary to increase the Act’s scope to repeal more historic offences. It marks an end to the remnants of the Offences against the Person Act of 1861, the Criminal LawAmendment Act of 1885, and the Sexual Offences Act of 1956, pertaining to consensual homosexual activity.