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.”