Thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted of abolished sex offences to be pardoned
Thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted of abolished sexual offences are to receive posthumous pardons in a landmark victory for campaigners.
The measures will see formal pardons for those convicted over consensual same-sex relationships before homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK.
It follows a government pledge to amend the law after World War Two code-breaker Alan Turing was pardoned in 2013.
Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said the move was “hugely important”. The Liberal Democrats, who led the campaign for convictions to be quashed, heralded the announcement as a “momentous day”.
Anyone convicted of such offences can apply through the Home Office to have their names cleared through the disregard process, which removes any mention of an offence from criminal record checks.
They will also receive a new, automatic statutory pardon, once their names have been successfully deleted through the disregard process.
Around 50,000 people, of whom 15,000 are still living, were convicted for consensual same-sex acts, which were decriminalised by the Sexual Offences Act 1967.
Mr Gyimah said it was "hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today".
He said the changes would be implemented via an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill lodged by the Lib Dems.
"Through pardons and the existing disregard process we will meet our manifesto commitment to put right these wrongs," he said.
But the Government said it would not support a Private Members’ Bill lodged by the SNP’s John Nicholson which proposes a blanked pardon for the living without the need to go through the disregard process.
MPs will debate the bill on Friday.
Mr Gyimah said: "A blanket pardon, without the detailed investigations carried out by the Home Office under the disregard process, could see people guilty of an offence which is still a crime today claiming to be pardoned.
"This would cause an extraordinary and unnecessary amount of distress to victims and for this reason the Government cannot support the Private Members’ Bill. Our way forward will be both faster and fairer."
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: "The Liberal Democrats continue to be the strongest voice on equality in Parliament.
"This was a manifesto commitment which even in opposition, thanks to the tireless work of our MPs and peers and those from other parties, we have been able to deliver on."
A PMB lodged by Lib Dem peer Lord Sharkey was said to be pivotal in securing the 2013 pardon for Mr Turing.
Commenting on the Government’s announcement, he said: “This is a momentous day for thousands of families up and down the UK who have been campaigning on this issue for decades.
"I am very grateful for the Government's support and the support of many of my colleagues in Parliament.
"It is a wonderful thing that we have been able to build on the pardon granted to Alan Turing during the Coalition by extending it to the thousands of men convicted of sexual offences that existed before homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967 and which would not be crimes today."