Peter Tatchell: Gay pardon bill is welcome – but must go further to redress injustice

Human rights activist says 'Alan Turing bill' leaves room for improvement

Photo: Alan Turing, WWII code-breaker, was pardoned in 2013

John Nicolson MP will present his Sexual Offences (Pardons etc) Bill to the House of Commons for its second reading this Friday, 21 October.

His Bill would grant a pardon to men convicted or cautioned under historic anti-gay laws for consenting adult same-sex behavior, where such behavior is no longer a crime today.

This Bill is an important, valuable advance that would remedy grave injustices.

An estimated 50,000 to 100,000 men were convicted under discriminatory anti-gay laws between 1885 and 2003 – the year when all homophobic sexual offences legislation was finally repealed in England and Wales.

However, the Bill has a few omissions. It does not allow for the pardoning of men convicted of procuring homosexual acts under the 1967 Sexual Offences Act.

Contrary to popular misconception, the 1967 Sexual Offences Act did not legalise or even fully decriminalise homosexuality. It was a limited, partial reform.

Most aspects of same-sex behaviour between men remained criminalised and all the anti-gay laws remained on the statute books under the heading ‘Unnatural offences’. In fact, convictions increased by nearly 400 per cent in the years after the 1967 Act.

An estimated 20,000 men were convicted of consenting adult same-sex behaviour after 1967. Some were convicted for merely chatting up, winking or smiling at other men, for cruising and loitering and for aiding and abetting homosexual acts – even lawful ones post-1967.

Nor would the new Bill pardon the people, including lesbians, convicted for same-sex kissing and cuddling under laws such as the Public Order Act 1986, the common law offence of outraging public decency, the Town and Police Clauses Act 1847 and other diverse statutes.

It is also unfair to limit applications for a pardon to the relatives of a deceased man. Many convicted men were rejected and disowned by their families.

The Bill should be amended to allow any concerned person, including personal friends, to apply for a pardon for a deceased person.

For example, there are no known relatives of James Pratt and John Smith who, in 1835, were the last men to hang for homosexuality in England. They deserve a pardon, especially given that the safety of their conviction is doubtful.

The Conservatives made a manifesto pledge in the 2015 General Election, as did the opposition parties, to pardon for gay and bisexual men convicted under discriminatory sex laws.

I hope that all political parties will honour their pre-election pledges by ensuring that this Bill, hopefully with a few amendments to make it comprehensive, goes forward to the next parliamentary stage and eventually becomes law.

Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner. Follow him on Twitter @PeterTatchell

For more on the work of his Foundation, or to sign up for emails or donate, visit

See: Six weirdest things David ‘refugees’ teeth’ Davies MP has ever said (that we know of)

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6 Responses to “Peter Tatchell: Gay pardon bill is welcome – but must go further to redress injustice”

  1. Harold A. Maio

    I believe what is necessary is pardoning the lawmakers for their crime.

  2. Dykeward

    Coming from a sceptical perspective and opposing these – what to me are silly ex post facto political gesture politics – pardon measures, I am still intrigued by Mr Tatchell’s revisionist history on the prosecution of homosexual offences (what I suspect is actually offences committed by homosexuals, which is something very different) but it’s very interesting, nonetheless. I wished we had been given some more meat to be able to evaluate, instead of the very vague and interest group driven outline above. For instance are acts of sex in public (for instance in certain locations frequented by homosexual men) that are then prosecuted, homosexual crimes, or crimes that anyone might be prosecuted for, but are engaged in more by homosexuals (in the day before ‘dogging’ became a thing, perhaps)?

  3. David Lindsay

    Convictions under laws predating these changes ( ought to be annulled by Act of Parliament along with those of men whose homosexual acts would not be criminal offences today, as the Government looks likely to grant this week. Labour should vote against that unless it also annulled, not only all convictions in the categories set out in the above link, but also all convictions and other adverse court decisions arising out of Clay Cross, Shrewsbury, Wapping, and the three Miners’ Strikes since 1970. This would set the pattern for all future feminist and LGBT legislation. Without a working-class quid pro quo, then Labour would vote against any such legislation. Alongside the DUP, the Conservative Right, or whoever. It is not Blair’s Labour Party now.

  4. Jimmy Glesga

    Too much emphasis is now put on gay rights as they have them now. The protection is more important as the religious nutters are still around.

  5. tim charnley

    Dear Sirs, I was charged with an act of ‘lewd and licentuous behavior, always makes me feel like an edwardian music hall act, about 15 years ago in Edinburgh, I was caught with another man at 2.00 am in a park in Edinburgh. I have previously applied to the chief of police for a pardon, he refused and said that the offence will be there on my card till I’m 75, will he now be obliged to give me a pardon?
    Best wishes

  6. What does Hollyrood’s apology mean to gay and bisexual men? – sexgenderspaces

    […] A public pardon has already been offered to gay and bisexual men in England and Wales back in 2016 (Left Foot Forward, 2016). Also who is not given an apology? What reversal of criminality will be offered to those […]

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