The United Kingdom government has agreed to approve an amendment to existing law enrolled by the Liberal Democrat Lord Sharkey, allowing a posthumous pardons to all prosecuted for homosexuality.
This is an extension of a posthumous pardon given in 2013 to the World War II code breaker, Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency.
The campaign for this move, conducted by Turing’s descendants and John Sharkey, was made 49 years after homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales in 1967, but it took until the 1980s for the changes in the law for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Sex between men was illegal until 1967, when the Sexual Offences Act came into force making it legal for men aged 21 or above. In 1994 that age was lowered to 18 and in 2001 it was lowered again to 16 – making it the same as the age of consent for straight people.
As a result of this change of law, there have been many gay men who had been prosecuted for sexual offences which are no longer illegal but yet to receive a formal pardon.
The government had initially reluctant to give the posthumous pardons, reasoning that there would not be a practical benefit to the change, and that it would also burden the authorities.
However on Thursday (20 Oct), Lord Sharkey informed that the government had agreed to support the amendment to the Police and Crime Bill condoning the pardon.
Lord Sharkey said, “This is a momentous day for thousands of families up and down the UK who have been campaigning on this issue for decades. I am very grateful for the government’s support and the support of many of my colleagues in parliament.”
“It is a wonderful thing that we have been able to build on the pardon granted to Alan Turing during coalition by extending it to the thousands of men convicted of sexual offences that existed before homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967 and which would not be crimes today,” he added.
About 16,000 living people have been given the right to apply for their convictions to be remedied.
Convicted men who are still alive will receive pardons if they have successfully applied to the Home Office for their conviction to be disregarded and wiped from their record.
And around 49,000 deceased men were estimated to have been convicted under the Criminal Law Amendment Act between 1885 and 1967.
Along with many historic figures’ names, like Oscar Wilde among others, their names will also be cleared. But with the provision of their relationships were with men aged at least 16 years old.