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Pardons for historic gay convictions: a call for evidence

It is quite rare for any government to admit to some historic wrongdoing, and even more so to take some concrete efforts to tackle it. When the government announced that it would be creating a process for gay and bisexual men to have their certain convictions removed from the record, this was a unique opportunity to right many historic wrongs.

However, the reality hasn’t lived up to the potential. To gain a pardon, people have to apply for one, which hugely limits the scheme’s reach. Many eligible people don’t know the pardons exist, and the vast majority of men who were persecuted for being gay or bi are not willing to trust the government to handle cases privately and sensitively.

We want to hear from people who were prosecuted for historic gay offences and who have not yet applied for a pardon.

Click here to share your story.

What is eligible?

Only convictions under sections 12 and 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 are eligible – “buggery” and “gross indecency” – and only if the charge would not be illegal under another law today. For example, charges for sexual activity in public cannot be pardoned because they would still be illegal, even though this kind of charge was historically used to persecute gay and bi men.

This means that there are only two types of convictions which can be pardoned. First; convictions which date from before 1967, and which were only brought because both partners were male. Second; convictions from after 1967 which occurred because the age of consent was different for gay and bi men. For both types, as long as both partners were over 16 at the time, and there was no other criminal behaviour, then you are eligible to apply first for a disregard and then a pardon.

“Disregards” were created in 2012, and allowed these two types of convictions to be removed from criminal record checks. Pardons were created in 2017, after Alan Turing was given a posthumous pardon for his homophobic convictions, and were then made available to all men with similar charges. The disregard has the real legal force and removes the conviction from public record, with a pardon more representing an apology from the British state.

Despite existing since 2012, only 483 people have successfully applied for a disregard, and even fewer for a pardon. The combination of strict eligibility criteria with the need to actively apply ensures that the numbers are much lower than the number of outstanding convictions.

It is difficult to know how many men with eligible convictions are still alive, but between 1967 and 2003 when the offences were abolished, there were 26,652 convictions for “Buggery” and 37,200 for “Gross Indecency”. About 30,000 of these convictions were prosecuted after 1980, so there are at least tens of thousands of men who could be pardoned who have not been.

Unlock are hoping to show that the process of disregards and pardons is unfair and discriminatory. While no more people can be prosecuted under the old laws, as long as the criminal records continue to exist, the old regime has not truly been abolished. Thousands of men still have to live with the fallout from a system which attacked them for their sexuality, and to escape that they are expected to apply to the same government which persecuted them.

About You

We want to hear from all men who could benefit from a disregard or a pardon, to hear about their challenges and experience of the criminal justice system. However, we are particularly keen to hear from men who have held off from seeking a pardon because of concerns about their privacy and their past being dredged up again.

  • You could be any age today, but are likely between 40 and 80.
  • You must have been convicted of an s.12 or s.13 offence before 2003.
  • You must be eligible for a disregard or pardon, so your conviction can only be for activity that is legal today and with a partner who was over 16 at the time.
  • You must have not yet applied for a disregard or pardon, because either you are afraid the process will involve your convictions becoming public, or because you are concerned the process will be insensitive and accusatory.

Get in touch

Click here to share your story. We want to hear about all experiences and points of view about pardons and disregards, both positive and negative. We understand that these kind of convictions can be difficult to talk about, but your input are critical to our efforts to improve the system and ensure as many people as possible benefit from it.

Your experiences will only be shared with your consent, and Unlock will never reveal your name or any other identifying details.

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Photo of Helpline lead, Debbie Sadler
Debbie Sadler
Helpline lead

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