Britain is to pardon thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted of crimes under sexual offence laws now abolished, following from the 2013 exoneration of celebrated World War II codebreaker Alan Turing.
Homosexual acts were not decriminalised in England until 1967 and it was not until 2001 that the age of consent for homosexuals was reduced to 16, bringing it into line with the law governing heterosexuals.
Lord John Sharkey, who has been pushing the government to issue pardons, said about 65,000 men had been convicted under the now-repealed laws, of which 15,000 were still alive.
The government said anyone found guilty of consensual homosexual sex would have their names cleared and for those still living the offences would be removed from any criminal record checks via a “disregard process”.
“It is hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today,” said Justice Minister Sam Gyimah.
The pardon plan has been dubbed “Turing’s Law” in reference to the brilliant wartime mathematician who cracked Nazi Germany’s “unbreakable” Enigma code.
He was stripped of his job and chemically castrated after being convicted of gross indecency in 1952 for having sex with a man and killed himself two years later, aged 41.
After years of campaigning by supporters including physicist Stephen Hawking, Turing was granted a rare royal pardon in 2013.
“Alan Turing just so, so deserves this,” his niece Rachel Barnes told BBC radio.
“To think that this is the man who cracked the enigma code and saved countless of millions of lives during World War II and to think of the treatments he went through at the hands of the government in 1952 is still unbelievable to us.”
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Another of those prosecuted under the legislation used against Turing was Irish playwright Oscar Wilde in 1895 during a Victorian clampdown on homosexuality.
He was sentenced to two years labour.
However the Guardian newspaper said it was not clear whether Wilde would be included in those pardoned as the Ministry of Justice has said no new individuals would be named or singled out.
– Michael Holden