Automatic pardons granted for historical gay convictions

6 June 2018, 17:32 | Updated: 6 June 2018, 17:38

Holyrood gay pardons

A new law giving automatic pardons to gay men convicted under historical discriminatory legislation and enabling them to have any such convictions effectively scrubbed from criminal records has been passed unanimously at Holyrood.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said the legislation marks a "proud day for Scotland".

The Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Bill will automatically pardon gay men convicted under historical discriminatory laws and will also allow them to apply for past convictions of this nature to be legally disregarded or removed from criminal records.

Private same-sex activity between two men aged over 21 was illegal in Scotland until 1981 and the age of consent for gay men was reduced to 16 in 2001.

The legislation received cross-party support but SNP backbencher John Mason sparked a row after Patrick Harvie revealed Mr Mason has said in an email he did not agree with "retrospective pardons and apologies", adding "will the Italians be apologising for the Roman occupation?"

The Green co-convener condemned Mr Mason's "flippant" tone and questioned how someone with those views could be selected to stand for parliament, urging a change in culture.

Mr Mason told him "tolerance" is important and added "in traditional faith communities there is a belief that "it is wrong for one person of the same sex to have a sexual relationship with someone else", before voting in favour of the legislation.

Mr Matheson said: "No-one needs reminding of the damage done to people's lives by these discriminatory and unjust laws, and that such damage cannot be undone.

"Unfortunately, for many decades, parliamentarians in Scotland supported or, at least, tolerated, laws which criminalised the act of loving another adult."

He said the lives of some men convicted would have been "destroyed" and gay men not convicted had to live under the fear they would be criminalised.

He added: "This Bill makes absolutely clear, through the pardon, that this Parliament acknowledges that those who were convicted of offences for engaging in same-sex sexual activity had done nothing wrong.

"By establishing a disregard process, it will also ensure that people can take steps to ensure that they do not continue to suffer discrimination as a result of such unjust convictions.

"Seen within the context of the apology offered by the First Minister and all of the political parties in this chamber, this is a proud day for this Parliament and a proud day for Scotland."

Conservative equalities spokeswoman Annie Wells said the "landmark" law is a further step to "true LGBTI equality" and gives men convicted under the historical laws "the opportunity to really move on with their lives".

She said: "Modern attitudes have changed and by supporting this Bill today we are setting in stone that the policies of the past were wrong and that Scotland is on its way to becoming a more just, fair and equal society."

Labour's Daniel Johnson criticised previous "unjust laws" which Liberal Democrat Alex Cole-Hamilton said had been a "stain on our national conscience".

Mr Cole-Hamilton said the legislation would offer a "profound and unreserved apology to those men both alive and dead who have been done incalculable harm by the policies and laws of the past".