Scotland's Equality Network welcomes pardons for discriminatory sex convictions

By agency reporter
October 15, 2019

Scotland's LGBTI organisation the Equality Network has welcomed the pardoning today (15 October 2019) of all historical discriminatory sex offence convictions between men. 

The Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Act 2018, which comes into effect today, provides a pardon for all sexual offence convictions between men for activities that are now no longer a crime. That includes convictions for sexual activity, affectionate activity such as kissing, and chatting up other men (previously known as “importuning”).

The Act states: “The purpose of this Act is to acknowledge the wrongfulness and discriminatory effect of past convictions for certain historical sexual offences by pardoning persons who have been convicted of those offences, and providing a process for convictions for those offences to be disregarded.”

Introducing the bill in the Scottish Parliament on 7 November 2017, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “For people who were convicted of same-sex sexual activity that is now legal, the wrong has been committed by the state, not by the individuals – the wrong has been done to them. Those individuals therefore deserve an unqualified apology, as well as a pardon.”

She added: “Therefore, today, as First Minister, I categorically, unequivocally and whole-heartedly apologise for those laws and for the hurt and the harm that they have caused to so many people.”

The bill was passed unanimously by the Parliament on 6 June 2018, with 119 votes in favour, zero against, and zero abstentions.

Until February 1981, all sexual activity between men was a crime in Scotland. The law was gradually relaxed, but until 2001 remained significantly discriminatory, with a higher age of consent (18) between men than between others (16) 

Statistics available for these convictions are very incomplete. But from what information exists, the Equality Network estimates that at least several thousand men were convicted over the centuries for activities that were entirely lawful between a man and a woman, with perhaps a few hundred people with such convictions living today.

The pardon applies today automatically to all those people, including those who are no longer living. But because it is not possible for the authorities to proactively identify all these convictions, if someone wants police and court records to be updated to remove any record of their conviction, they need to apply for a “disregard”. That is a fairly simple, free, application process, in which they give as much detail as they recall of the events leading to their conviction, so that the relevant records can be identified and removed. 

The disregard means that records of the conviction are removed, and it is disregarded for all purposes.

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “There is no place for homophobia, ignorance and hatred in modern Scotland. This landmark legislation provides an automatic pardon to men convicted of same-sex sexual activity, which is now entirely legal.

“We have been working closely with Police Scotland and other partners to ensure the ‘disregard’ scheme is clear and effective and has appropriate safeguards in place.

“This legislation makes good on the commitments made by the First Minister, who gave an unqualified apology for the now outdated and discriminatory laws, and for the harm they caused to many.”

Tim Hopkins, Director of the Equality Network, said: “Centuries ago, the death penalty applied in Scotland to sexual relationships between men. More recently, during the 20th century, hundreds of men in Scotland were sent to prison for consensual adult relationships. And we know of men who as recently as the 1990s were convicted of a criminal offence and fined, for no more than kissing another man in public.

“Today’s pardon applies to all those cases. Nothing can undo the harm of centuries of homophobic discrimination, but at least the state now acknowledges that it was the law that was wrong, and the people convicted under it did nothing wrong.”

He added: “The Scottish Government and Parliament deserve credit for the way they have implemented this. The pardon arrangements in the rest of the UK have been criticised for not covering convictions for activities such as chatting up another man, and for not applying the pardon automatically to people who are still living. We are glad that the arrangements in Scotland are more complete.”

* The application for a disregard may be made online here

* The Equality Network is a Scottish lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) equality and human rights charity http://www.equality-network.org/

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