Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Today In 2017: UK 'Alan Turing Law' Pardons Those Convicted of Gay Sex Crimes

The "Alan Turing law" is an informal term for the law in the United Kingdom, contained in the Policing and Crime Act 2017, which serves as an amnesty law to pardon men who were cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts. The provision is named after Alan Turing, the World War II codebreaker and computing pioneer, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952. Turing himself received a royal pardon (posthumously) in 2013. The law applies in England and Wales.

To implement the pardon, the British Government announced on October 20, 2016, that it would support an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill that would provide a posthumous pardon, also providing an automatic formal pardon for living people who had had such offences removed from their record. The bill received royal assent today, on January 31, in 2017, and the pardon was implemented that same day. 

The law only provides pardons for men convicted of acts that are no longer offences; those convicted under the same laws of offences that would now be classified as cottaging, underage sex, or rape were not pardoned.

Homosexual acts between men were illegal until the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 in England and Wales, the Criminal Justice Act 1980 in Scotland, and the Homosexual Offences Order 1982 in Northern Ireland. As the three regions are separate jurisdictions, and many elements of criminal law are devolved matters in the United Kingdom, the British Government only has the power to legislate a pardon for England and Wales.

John Leech (in brown jacket) with campaigners at Manchester’s Gay Pride

Alan Turing, died in 1954 in suspicious circumstances, following his conviction for gross indecency in 1952. A campaign to pardon Turing was led by former Manchester Withington MP John Leech, who called it 'utterly disgusting and ultimately just embarrassing' that the conviction was upheld as long as it was. Turing himself was pardoned posthumously through the royal prerogative of mercy under David Cameron in 2013, but contrary to the requests of some campaigners including Leech, the Astronomer Royal Martin Rees and the activist and journalist Peter Tatchell, his pardon was not immediately followed by pardons for anyone else convicted.

The announcement was broadly welcomed, but some quarters said it did not go far enough. The campaigner George Montague said that he would refuse a pardon, as a pardon suggested that he was guilty of a crime, and instead asked for a government apology. As the law and the disregard process applies only to England and Wales, groups in Northern Ireland and Scotland have campaigned for equivalent laws in their jurisdictions.

As of January 2017, some 49,000 men had been posthumously pardoned under the terms of the Policing and Crime Act 2017.

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