The UK Thursday said it will posthumously pardon thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted under now-abolished sexual offences law. The new law has been dubbed as the ‘Alan Turing Law’ after Britain’s famous Enigma code-breaker responsible for decrypting Nazi messages during World War II who was granted a posthumous royal pardon in 2013 – 61 years after he was charged at a Manchester police station over homosexual activity.
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“It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today. Through pardons and the existing disregard process we will meet our manifesto commitment to put right these wrongs,” said UK justice minister Sam Gyimah.
Around 75,000 gay and bisexual men were convicted under the Sexual Offences Act, which was abolished in 1967, and around 16,000 are believed to be alive today.
The law was changed in Scotland in 1980 and in Northern Ireland in 1982.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has given her full backing to the proposal by the Liberal Democrat party and it will become law tomorrow after the House of Lords officially approves an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill.
Under the amendment, deceased people who were convicted of sexual acts that are no longer deemed criminal will receive an automatic pardon.
Anyone living who has been convicted of such offences can already apply through the UK Home Office to have the offence wiped from their criminal records.
But now, if the Home Office agrees that the offence is no longer an offence under current law, they will automatically be pardoned.
It will effectively act as an apology to those convicted for consensual same-sex relationships before homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales nearly 50 years ago.
Rachel Barnes, the great niece of Turing who has long campaigned on the issue, hailed the decision as “absolutely tremendous.”
“This is a momentous day for all those who have been convicted under the historic laws, and for their families. The gross indecency law ruined peoples’ lives,” she said.
“As Alan Turing received a pardon, it is absolutely right that those who were similarly convicted should receive a pardon as well. It is great news for all those who have worked so hard for years to bring about this new legislation,” she added.
Her uncle, known in the UK as the Bletchley Park code-breaker, was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency with a 19-year-old man. He was later chemically castrated and died in 1954 after poisoning himself with cyanide. His pardon followed a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Commons introduced by Lord Sharkey. In 2013, the posthumous royal pardoning of Turing led to calls for wider pardons, and the launch of a petition in 2015.
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