Thousands of men convicted of offences that once criminalised homosexuality but are no longer on the statute book have been posthumously pardoned under a new law by the UK government.
British media reports that a clause in the policing and crime bill, which received royal assent on Tuesday, extends to those who are dead with the aim of purging past criminal records.
The general pardon is modelled on the 2013 royal pardon granted by the Queen to Alan Turing, the mathematician who broke the German Enigma codes during the second world war. He killed himself in 1954, at the age of 41, after his conviction for gross indecency.
Welcoming the legislation, the justice minister Sam Gyimah said: “This is a truly momentous day. We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologised and taken action to right these wrongs. I am immensely proud that ‘Turing’s law’ has become a reality under this government.”
There is already a procedure in place for the living to apply to the Home Office to have their past convictions, relating to same-sex relationships, expunged from their criminal records.
Under what is known as the disregard process, anyone previously found guilty of past sexual offences that are no longer criminal matters can ask to have them removed.
A disregard can be granted only if the past offence was a consensual relationship and both men were over 16. The conduct must also not constitute what remains an offence of sexual activity in a public lavatory.
Gyimah says the government has ‘taken action to right these wrongs’.
Each disregard application is checked to prevent people from claiming to be cleared of offences that are still crimes. Those granted a disregard will also be pardoned.
No lists of past pardons will be published but the new law will allow future historians to point out that those imprisoned or fined for consensual gay relationships would not under modern legislation have committed a crime.