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anti-gay laws between 1885 and 2003 – the year when all homophobic sexual offences legislation was finally repealed in England and Wales.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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