Campaigners and legal minds cautiously welcome @scotgov same-sex "pardon" law

Campaigners welcome “opportunity” by the Scottish Government to clear dark history of discrimination 

A FULL PARDON for men previously convicted of “same-sex activity” has been cautiously welcomed by equalities campaigners and legal experts after being announced by the Scottish Government.

The cabinet secretary for justice, Michael Matheson MSP, announced that men convicted for same-sex sexual activity on the basis of past discriminatory criminal laws will receive a full pardon, a week after the so called Turing Bill, sponsored by SNP MP John Nicolson, was blocked by the UK Government.

However, legal practitioners have stressed the importance of noting that an automatic wiping of convictions would not happen and that “automatic pardons” from the Scottish Government would not necessarily end in convictions being disregarded.

“We are also of the view that this is a clear opportunity for the Scottish Government to make an unequivocal apology to all those affected, those convicted, and their loved ones.” Colin Macfarlane

Speaking to CommonSpace Colin Macfarlane, director Stonewall Scotland said: “We're pleased to see the Justice Secretary’s announcement for plans for issuing pardons and providing justice for gay and bi men convicted of historic offences and are keen to see the details of these proposals and to work with Scottish Government to get the best possible solution for those affected.

“We are also of the view that this is a clear opportunity for the Scottish Government to make an unequivocal apology to all those affected, those convicted, and their loved ones. This would help many draw a line, once and for all, under a dark period in our history”

The legislation to be brought forward by the Scottish Government would make sure all those who have convictions will be pardoned, if the convictions relate to same-sex sexual activity that is now lawful.

“People think pardons mean all sorts of things, most of them wrong. As a result, confusion and dissatisfaction lie ahead.” John Chalmers

However, Professor John Chalmers, Regius Professor of Law at the University of Glasgow has stated that because of the lack of clarity over the language concerning the proposed bill and that pardons are not an established part of legal practice in Scotland, it could lead to confusion over the practical implications of the bill.

Chalmers said: “The Scottish Government is doing two things here: a) catching up on what the Coalition did for England and Wales in 2012 (referring to the actual posthumous pardoning of Alan Turing in 2012) and going further, along the lines of John Nicolson’s bill.

“It’s not exactly ideal that we are four years and counting behind England and Wales.

“The Scottish Government statement in the circumstances, takes just the right tone, rather than trying to make political capital out of the situation.”

However, the professor, expressed concern about confusion arising over the difference between a pardon and and a legal disregarding.

He added: “People are going to end up badly confused about what this legislation in all parts of the UK actually does. They are going to assume convictions have been automatically wiped when they have not.

“People think pardons mean all sorts of things, most of them wrong. As a result, confusion and dissatisfaction lie ahead.”

The difference between a pardon and disregarding a charge is that a pardon can still result in a conviction coming up on a check. Where an offence is disregarded, it means that a person will be treated as not having been convicted in the first place and previous charges do not show up on disclosure checks. Chalmers argues that an “automatic pardon” would not necessarily end in a record being wiped.

“The Scottish Government statement in the circumstances, takes just the right tone, rather than trying to make political capital out of the situation.” John Chalmers

The Turing Bill, sponsored by John Nicolson MP last week, argued for the UK Government to issue a general pardon to all gay and bi men who were prosecuted under these unjust laws.

However, the Bill was filibustered last week by Sam Gyimah, UK justice minister, who spoke until the session ran out of time leaving the Bill unable to progress into law.

Thousands of gay and bi men throughout the UK in the 20th century were prosecuted under discriminatory sexual offence laws. More than 75,000 men were persecuted for their sexual orientation, including some right up to 2003 when the discriminatory laws were repealed in England and Wales.

Picture courtesy of Erre

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