The government has been urged to grant a full pardon to people convicted of homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in the days when it was still illegal.
Ministers have promised that these criminal records will officially be "disregarded". But human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell this week urged them to go further and grant a full pardon in all cases of sexual activity between consenting adults.
Sexual relations between men were not legalised in Britain until 1967. At that point, they became legal only if those involved were aged 21 or over. The age limit was not reduced to 16 until 2003.
Estimates suggest that between 50,000 and 100,000 adult men were convicted of consenting sexual activity between 1885 and 2003. It is reported that in 1989 alone, there were over 2,000 convictions for 'gross indecency'. This offence applied only to consensual sexual contact between men and not to comparable sexual behaviour between men and women.
Clause 85 of the government’s Protection of Freedoms Bill instructs the police to “disregard” these convictions. But critics say that disregarding them is not the same as deleting them, as they will still be visible to police.
Under the government’s current plans, the convictions will remain in the criminal record but they will not have to be disclosed and the police and other agencies will not be allowed to cite them or use them against a person when they apply for a job or get stopped in the street.
But because the convictions will still appear in police files, campaigners fear they could influence police perceptions of a gay or bisexual person who they question on an unrelated matter.
“Instead of tinkering with the criminal record system, the government should grant a full pardon to all men convicted of consenting homosexual behaviour that has ceased to be a crime,” argued Peter Tatchell.
He added, "Instead of merely disregarding past gay offences that were consenting and are no longer criminal, the government should grant a full pardon to all gay and bisexual men convicted of behaviour that was not a crime for heterosexual men and women”.
Tatchell insisted, “These men were unjustly convicted under discriminatory laws. To put right this historic wrong, they deserve a pardon.”