British men convicted of homosexual offences pre-1967 can clear record

Tue, Oct 2, 2012, 01:00

THOUSANDS OF elderly British men convicted of homosexual offences before homosexuality was decriminalised in 1967 will be able to have their criminal records erased under new legislation promised before the 2010 general election by Conservative leader and prime minister David Cameron.

Under the Protection of Freedoms Act, gay or bisexual men convicted before 1967 of gross indecency or consensual gay sex with over-16 year olds, or of “loitering with intent” under section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 – the offence often used by police when evidence of sexual relations did not exist – will be able to apply.

The age of consent for legal homosexual sex – set at 21 in 1967 – was reduced in 1994 to 18, and six years later reduced to 16.

However, the legal change was not made retrospective, leaving nearly 20,000 men with criminal convictions for actions that would not be offences today.

Despite the passage of time, many of the men have continued to be affected by the convictions, as many were reluctant to apply for jobs that required security background checks, including volunteering roles, the gay lobby group Stonewall said yesterday.

“From today, thousands of men who have been burdened with homophobic convictions can clear their names, and Stonewall stands ready to help them.

“We never forget that the equality we enjoy today came too late for many. By correcting these historic injustices we can start to bring closure to a very sad period of this country’s history,” said Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill.

Stonewall said it knew “anecdotally” of a large number of men who were dissuaded from volunteering and other acts of public service.

“Obviously, having a criminal record has implications for any job where criminal records checks are needed, so many men with historic convictions would have been dissuaded from pursuing careers in teaching, the armed forces, medicine or the police.

“In view of how long the offences were on the statute books, it’s probably impossible to calculate the human cost of the historic convictions. The home office estimates that about 16,000 men had such convictions,” said Stonewall spokesman Andy Wasley.

Mr Cameron’s promise two years ago – he referred to it as “a question of justice” at the time – was seen as part of an effort by the Conservatives to increase their appeal to Britain’s gay community – a relationship that had never been good, but which had been particularly poisoned after the Section 28 controversy in the mid-1980s.

The Conservative government led by Margaret Thatcher introduced legislation in 1988 that ordered local authorities to “not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. It was repealed in 2000 in Scotland and in 2003 in the rest of Britain.