“Alan Turing Law” Comes Into Effect

Today has seen Royal Assent given to the Policing and Crime Bill, which contained what has become popularly known as the “Alan Turing Law.” As a result the law, which pardons thousands of men prosecuted for homosexual acts prior to their legalisation in the 1960s, have now received posthumous pardons.

The act takes its name from wartime codebreaker and computing pioneer Alan Turing (pictured above). Turing was homosexual, and was famously found guilty of gross indecency after being caught engaging in sexual acts with other men. He was subjected to chemical castration, believed to be a major contributing factor to his decision to commit suicide two years later.

After an official apology was given in 2009, Turing was pardoned of his “crimes” posthumously in 2013, almost six decades after his 1954 suicide, and while the decision to do so was welcomed many campaigners felt like a single pardon, however high-profile the case, was of limited use as a symbolic gesture when so many others were still on record as criminals. These concerns prompted calls for a more wide-reaching pardon, which is what the act which comes into force today provides. Turing’s own relatives played a prominent role in launching campaigns for such a pardon to be delivered.

The act provides a posthumous pardon to roughly 49,000 gay and bisexual men who were found guilty of offences that would not be considered criminal today. Men who were convicted in this way and are still living can also be cleared of their crimes, but they have to apply for their statutory pardon rather than receiving it automatically.

The act applies to men found guilty of committing consensual sex acts with members of the same sex, and the decision to issue the widespread pardon was first announced last year. However, like all laws the act had to make its way through the necessary processes before it could actually be enacted, and now the act has received Royal Assent the pardon is effective from today.

The enactment of the pardon was described as a “truly momentous day by Sam Gyimah. The justice minister went on to say that “We can never undo the hurt caused, but we have apologised and taken action to right these wrongs.”

LGBT rights activists also welcomed the pardon and its passing into law. Major gay rights organisation Stonewall said that it represented “Another important milestone of equality” and that “The more equality is enshrined into our law books, the stronger our equality becomes, and the stronger we as a community become.”

The Role of Online Courts in the Future of Justice

There have been multiple calls for online courts from multiple quarters in the past few years, with the first digital court processes currently in development. Many of these have lauded the concept as a way to use contemporary technology to enhance the UK’s justice processes. However, there have also been reservations, and many of the concerns expressed about the concept of digital courts have also revolved around the integrity of British justice.

About Online Courts

Online courts would in many ways be similar to the small claims track, the closest thing the UK currently has to an online court which can often see financial cases settled through online forms with no physical court appearances. Details of the case and all relevant information would be gathered through online forms, and judges and legal professionals could access, review, and respond to the case remotely. This would, of course, be limited to certain kinds of case for which this kind of approach is felt to be sufficient.

Access to Justice

One of the key strengths that online courts could bring to the UK’s legal system is improving access to justice. Some people in remote rural areas are already quite a distance from their nearest court, and in an age when significant numbers of courts are closing to save costs many of these people are finding themselves further and further away from their “local” centre of justice. For at least some kinds of cases, online courts could provide many of these people with direct access to the courts without the need to travel to a specific physical location. On the negative side, while few have debated the advantages of this the Ministry of Justice has been accused of using online courts as an excuse for closing local courts, and an inferior substitute for keeping them open.

Quality of Justice

This is arguably among the more contentious issues surrounding the impact that online courts may have on how justice is done in the UK. Critics suggest that having cases dealt with online would make it harder to ensure that justice is done properly and fairly, and also express concerns about the fact that some online court proposals may exclude professional legal representation from a number of cases. Proponents of online courts, on the other hand, claim that for many cases an online system is entirely adequate without compromising on the quality of justice, and that by being easier to access and more affordable it would encourage a greater number of people to pursue justice in the first place.