Scotland pardons gay men convicted under homophobic laws

by Sonia Elks | @SoniaElks | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 15 October 2019 12:54 GMT

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attends a news conference in Berlin, Germany, September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

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The law will cover anyone convicted for same-sex activity which is no longer illegal, and those affected can apply to have their former police record 'disregarded' or wiped clean

By Sonia Elks

LONDON, Oct 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Gay and bisexual men in Scotland prosecuted for consensual same-sex activity will receive an automatic pardon under a law which came into effect on Tuesday aiming to correct a "historic wrong" but stopped short of offering compensation.

The law will cover anyone convicted for same-sex activity which is no longer illegal, ranging from gay sex to kissing or flirting, and those affected can apply to have their former police record 'disregarded' or wiped clean.

Hundreds of men in Scotland were living with criminal records as a result of such discriminatory former laws, estimated LGBT+ rights group Equality Network, which said the convictions had hampered careers and overshadowed men's lives.

"We know of people who were prosecuted as late as the early 1990s for things like kissing their boyfriend in the street," said director Tim Hopkins, adding that for men prosecuted in earlier decades especially it could have been "devastating".

"A conviction like this could have meant the end of your career, it could have meant losing your friends, it could have meant losing your family, all of those huge impacts," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"The pardons and the disregard can't undo all of the harm done by these discriminatory laws but they do at least give some comfort to people."

Scotland legalised same-sex activity between men in 1980, though it was not until 2001 that the age of consent was equalised between gay and heterosexual couples.

Thousands of men are thought to have been prosecuted for consensual same-sex contact over the last 150 years, said the Equality Network.

"NO PLACE FOR HOMOPHOBIA"

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon offered a public apology to those convicted in such cases for a "historic wrong" as the draft law was first published in 2017, and it was passed unanimously by Scottish parliament the following year.

Parliamentarians on the Equalities and Human Rights Committee had considered whether the bill should be amended to include compensation but decided it was "not appropriate in the Scottish context".

The then-justice secretary Michael Matheson argued such a move might be unfair to those who had suffered other forms of homophobic discrimination.

The new bill will pardon all those affected, including those that are no longer living.

"There is no place for homophobia, ignorance and hatred in modern Scotland," said justice secretary Humza Yousaf in a statement on the eve of the law coming into effect.

Those impacted must apply to have their criminal records wiped, a free process that the government and campaigners say is necessary because the offences are so wide-ranging it is not possible for authorities to proactively identify them.

The bill is wider-ranging than a similar law introduced in England and Wales, which only automatically pardons those who are dead and which has also been criticised for not including all of the former offences used to target gay men.

Veteran LGBT+ rights campaigner Peter Tatchell welcomed the automatic pardons, adding the bill was an improvement on the equivalent law in England, but said the government should also offer compensation for those affected.

"Their lives were ruined. They deserve compensation, similar to what has been agreed by the German government," he said.

"I urge Nicola Sturgeon and Scotland to lead the way by taking the next step to further put right this grave injustice." (Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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