The Turing Law is a new law that posthumously pardons men convicted of same-sex offences that are no longer crimes. Thousands of men who were criminals for simply having sex with their male partner or even for just chatting up men (some of whom were undercover police officers) are now pardoned.
The new law (also known by the much less catchy name Section 164 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017) is not a blanket pardon for all same-sex offences. Section 164 only applies to convictions and cautions in England and Wales, unless the offences relate to service disciplinary proceedings (i.e those convicted under acts specific to British armed forces personnel).
Some same-sex offences do not qualify. The offences that do not qualify are those which remain illegal now, specifically any non-consensual offences and those involving a person under 16. There is also another offence which remains. It’s one which I am sure I am not alone in having committed: Sexual activity in a public lavatory (Section 71 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003).
Whether you think it should be illegal or not, this law remains because it is non-discriminatory. Whatever your sexual orientation, if you get frisky in a lavatory you might find yourself with a criminal record.
Whatever your sexual orientation, if you get frisky in a lavatory you might find yourself with a criminal recordClick To Tweet
Why do we need it?
Society has changed considerably since we had laws which criminalised gay and bisexual men purely for their sexual orientation. The government has implemented laws that make discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal but those laws are too late for the men who spent time in prison because they dared to love and have sex with men. It’s about time the government spoke up to say not only are same-sex relationships now equal to opposite sex relationships, but their predecessors in government were wrong. Societal attitudes have changed and we need laws that reflect that.
Who was Alan Turing and why is it named after him?
Alan Turing, the law’s namesake, was a genius mathematician, Enigma code breaker and the father of computer science. Were it not for him, I might be shouting this out of my window because computers as we know them may never have been invented. Turing was, and is, lauded for his exceptional code breaking which helped to end the Second World War, and in 1945 he was awarded an OBE for his vital contributions to the war effort.
All his work for his country didn’t make him immune from the rampant prejudice facing gay and bisexual men. In 1952 he was convicted of gross indecency for acknowledging he had a sexual relationship with a man. He was given the choice of imprisonment or hormone treatment intended to cure him of his homosexual urges. He chose the hormone treatment.
After his conviction he continued to work on his theories but the conviction led to the removal of his security clearance so he was no longer able to work for the Government Communications Headquarters.
He died of cyanide poisoning in 1954, two years after his conviction. It is generally accepted that he ended his life.
In 2013 Turing received a posthumous royal pardon. The new Turing Law (section 164 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017) extends the pardon to all the other men who faced the same injustice.
What about people who are still alive?
Section 164 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 does not apply to people who are still alive but Section 165 builds upon the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. Section 165 pardons men who have applied to the Secretary of State under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and had their conviction or caution disregarded. A disregard means the offence is treated as though it never happened. It is expunged from their record and means it will never show up on a DBS check which is needed for some jobs. A pardon doesn’t overturn a conviction.
In reality the pardon in Section 165 is nothing more than a gesture, and a nonsensical one at that. How can someone be pardoned for a conviction or caution which has been quashed and expunged from their record?!
What are people’s reactions?
Reactions to the Turing Law have generally been positive. Many people believe same-sex consensual relationships between adults should never have been illegal and lots of people feel this law recognises the injustice faced by gay and bisexual men as a result of historic laws.
Other people, like George Montague who was convicted of gross indecency, feel a pardon is wrong as those who were convicted or cautioned don’t need forgiving, they deserve an apology.
There is a much smaller subset of people who believe the pardons are wrong because, although society may now believe same-sex relationships should be legal, these men knowingly broke the law.
What about people convicted of other crimes that are no longer illegal?
This isn’t the first time a pardon has been granted to a group. In 2007 the Armed Forces Act 2006 posthumously pardoned more than 300 soldiers who were shot for cowardice and desertion. Pardons for living people, however, are very rare.
There are a number of historic crimes for which people have never been pardoned. One that seems pertinent in relation to the Turing Law is suicide. Suicide was illegal in the UK until the Suicide Act 1961 was enacted. Of the 613 people prosecuted for attempting suicide, 33 were imprisoned and others were fined. There is no pardon for those who were punished for being in distress.
I support the intention that led to the law being approved but I dislike that these men have been posthumously pardoned for two reasons. Firstly, they have nothing to be pardoned for. It was the law that was at fault. Secondly, I believe a disregard would be more just. In so many of the articles I have read people are equating a pardon with a person no longer being considered guilty. That isn’t the case. A pardon removes the consequences of a conviction (which are non-existent after death), but it does not quash it. All those pardoned are still guilty and it says as much in the act itself.
Despite my misgivings about the act itself, I want to praise the MPs who have fought to get this law enacted. The fact it was possible shows just how far the UK has come from the days when merely holding hands with someone of the wrong gender could result in a stay at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.