A scheme that expunges the records of people convicted under scrapped laws criminalising consenting gay sex will be expended to include other offences such as solicitation, the Government has said.
Under the existing scheme introduced in 2017, known informally as Turing’s law, people who have historical convictions for buggery or gross indecency between men are able to have the offences wiped from their records.
However, people seeking to clear their records have experienced difficulties as the current scheme only applies to certain offences – ones that were clearly focused on sexual activity – while police frequently used a series of other offences, such as solicitation, to target gay and bisexual men for pursuing consenting sex.
After pressure from LGBT+ campaigners, an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will broaden the criteria to include any repealed or abolished civilian or military offence imposed on someone purely for, or due to, consensual same-sex sexual activity.
Conditions will still need to be met in order for a disregard and pardon to be granted, including that anyone else involved must have been aged 16 or over and the sexual activity must not constitute an offence today.
The Home Office confirmed that it would move the change after pressure from Stonewall co-founder Lord Cashman and Conservative peer Lord Lexden.
Lord Lexden said earlier this year it was “an affront to gay people” that the scheme had not been extended, while Lord Cashman has argued that existing measures “are significantly flawed because they encompass only a small fraction of the laws that, over the decades and centuries, have immiserated the lives of gay and bisexual people”.
He had highlighted that “the offence of solicitation by men, which was used to entrap gay and bisexual men, sometimes for doing nothing more than chatting up another adult man” would not have been included in the original scheme.
Homosexuality was partially decriminalised in 1967, when gay sex between two men over the age of 21 was made legal for the first time.
However, the legal change did not end police persecution. It was not until 2003 that gay sex was legalised “when more than two persons take part” in England and the age of consent was equalised at 16.
Lord Lexden, Lord Cashman, and Professor Paul Johnson – who had also worked on the campaign – welcomed the news.
They said: “For five years, the three of us have been working together on behalf of gay people in the armed forces and in civilian life, who suffered grave injustice because of cruel laws which discriminated against them in the past.
“Now that Parliament has repealed those laws, it has a duty to wipe away the terrible stains which they placed, quite wrongly, on the reputations of countless gay people over the centuries.
“The existing legal arrangements to do this are too narrowly drawn. Many gay people who were the victims of past injustice are excluded from them. This is particularly true of individuals in our armed forces, brave people whose careers serving our country were suddenly destroyed.
“We have been pressing the government since 2016 to widen the disregard and pardon schemes through which individuals’ reputations can be fully restored. The government has now pledged to bring forward amendments to legislation which is currently before the Lords. It has done this in close consultation with us. In a matter of weeks, legislation will be in place to enable thousands of gay people to whom grave harm was done to wipe their records clean.
“We are delighted that our long campaign will at last bring many gay people, both living and deceased, the restitution they deserve.”
Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “It is only right that where offences have been abolished, convictions for consensual activity between same-sex partners should be disregarded too.
“I hope that expanding the pardons and disregards scheme will go some way to righting the wrongs of the past and to reassuring members of the LGBT community that Britain is one of the safest places in the world to call home.”
Additional reporting by Press Association