Lord Sharkey calls for convictions for homosexuality to be posthumously disregarded

While the attention yesterday evening was on the Lord’s debate on revenge porn, Lib Dems were also supporting another amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, this time on posthumous pardons for men convicted of homosexuality.

During the debate, John Sharkey explained that 75,000 men were convicted of homosexual acts under laws repealed in the 1960s. Legislation passed in 2012, gave 16,000 of them still alive the right to apply to have their convictions disregarded, but this left 59,000 similarly convicted, but now dead, unable to get such redress. Last year Alan Turing was given a posthumous royal pardon.

John Sharkey said

Our amendment simply sets out to give equal treatment to all those gay men convicted under the cruel and homophobic Labouchère amendment and other Acts. It sets out to treat the dead and the living equally. It would bring closure to an extremely unhappy period in our criminal law. It would give comfort to the relatives, friends and supporters of those gay men convicted but now dead. It would help to put right a serious historical injustice.

Although he was backed by some Conservative peers the Justice Minister, Lord Faulks, responded:

I fully appreciate and sympathise with the intention behind the amendment, but the Government are concerned that there would not be a practical benefit to the change. A disregard would not allow the applicant, on behalf of a deceased person, to say that the deceased person was incorrectly convicted, nor that he or she has received a pardon. It is important to remember the rationale that lies behind this. The objective of the Protection of Freedoms Act, in disregarding certain offences, is that they should no longer affect a person’s life or career. The intention is to support living people who are disadvantaged when they apply for work, rather than to set the record straight.

The Government are concerned this would place a disproportionate burden on existing resources at the Home Office and on the police service. … In our view, the limited resources should be directed at those who continue to have difficulties as a result of their conviction or caution for these offences. I need hardly stress that there is a difference between a pardon and a disregard.

However, I appreciate that there is a feeling that something ought to be done to right a historic injustice. I can certainly—without, I hope, raising any expectations—at least agree to facilitate a meeting with the Minister to discuss this matter further.

 

 

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames where she is still very active with the local party.

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4 Comments

  • Agree. Millions of dead people were convicted of absurd things that are no longer crimes: witchcraft, blasphemy, being a Catholic, being Welsh on the English side of the River Severn, etc. It would take forever to annul every crime for every dead person that has now been superseded. In the past, laws were [email protected], now they’re less so – move on and put effort into the here and now not the past.

  • It does seem a little pointless. If it’s symbolism you’re after than the pardon for Turing seems sufficient. On a practical level, Lord Faulks makes sensible points.

    There is also the matter of whether all those convicted actually deserve a pardon. The law was very vague, and some of the people convicted under it may well have been doing things that we would still wish to be illegal today, even though most people now accept full equality for gay people. For instance, I would draw a distinction between those (like Turing) who were convicted of acts in private homes, and those who were convicted of certain acts in public places. I presume it would be impossible to differentiate between these easily – someone would have to trawl through all the individual cases.

  • Tony Dawson 22nd Jul '14 - 3:14pm

    John Sharkey has a record of being involved in hopeless but well-meaning campaigns. He was, after all, the Lib Dem ‘lead’ and ‘Campaign Director’ (though heaven knows how he was given this job) in the doomed ‘AV ‘YES’ campaign which was lost because the ‘No’ campaign turned it into the first plebiscite on Nick Clegg with inevitable results. He also ran the Party’s national election campaign in 2010 which basically ‘bombed’ although was saved by the efforts of a couple of dozen campaign teams around the country.

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