Legislation which will automatically pardon gay and bisexual men who were convicted under discriminatory laws has been published in the Scottish Parliament.

First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, also offered an unreserved apology on behalf of the Government to those convicted of historical ‘homosexual offences’.

She said, “Today as First Minister I apologise for the hurt and harm those laws caused so many. I hope this apology alongside our legislation can help address the harm that was done. The law should not have treated you as criminals. This Parliament recognises that a wrong was done to you.”

The Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons & Disregards) (Scotland) Bill will see provisions made to automatically pardon those convicted of a number of defined offences prior to 2001, and will offer those convicted the option to have their conviction ‘disregarded’ in public records, including those held by Police Scotland and Disclosure Scotland.

The legislation covers people who were prosecuted, but also where an ‘alternative to prosecution’ was used, such as a Police warning, a conditional warning or an offer to undertake treatment made by the procurator fiscal service. The automatic pardon will also apply posthumously.

Turing Law Scotland

Tim Hopkins, Director of the Equality Network, said:

“The bill and the First Minister’s apology are a hugely important statement that the Scottish Government acknowledges and regret the discrimination of the past, and that Scotland is now committed to LGBTI equality. Ofcourse, nothing that is done now can repair the damage caused by past discrimination, but we welcome that the bill spells out that these convictions were wrong and discriminatory, and reinforces that, by granting an automatic pardon to all those convicted.”

The Equality Network helped draft the legislation with the Scottish Government and the list of ‘historical sexual offences’ which are eligible to receive the pardon and disregard, which include:

  • homosexual acts in public or private under the Criminal Law (Consolidation) (Scotland) Act 1995 – Sect 13 (5) (a) (5) (c) (6) and (9)
  • homosexual acts in public or private under the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 1980 which includes acts committed in the Merchant Navy – Sect 80 (7) (a) (c) and (d) (9) and (12)
  • gross indecency in public or private covered under section 7 of the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 1976
  • gross indecency in public or private covered under section 11 of the Criminal LAw Amendment Act 1885
  • the common law offence of sodomy, shameless indecency and attempting or conspiring to commit any of the offences mentioned above

The pardon does not extend to areas deemed to be unlawful today, such as the laws covering public indecency in Scotland, often used in convicting men who still use public toilets to meet other gay or bi men.

James, a 47 year old man who works in the health sector, was prosecuted for kissing his partner in the street in Glasgow, and fined £150. He recalls:

“In 1990 at the age of 20 and after leaving a night club a bit on the merry side, I was kissing my partner in the street. We were both approached by the police and arrested and later charged with intent to commit a homosexual act in a public place. Every job I apply for, yet again I have to be interviewed regarding my conviction and relive what happened 27 years ago. Why should what happened 27 years ago still haunt me?”

The new bill outlines that Scottish Government Ministers will be responsible for considering applications to wipe the records of these past convictions, called a ‘disregard’. Although men will receive an automatic pardon, this does not remove the conviction from the record. Individuals must apply to have the disregard approved, which will then be ignored on public records, such as disclosure certificates.

There will be no entitlement to compensation for these past convictions.

Michael Matheson
Michael Matheson MSP

Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, said:

“Scotland is an open and tolerant society, committed to respecting, protecting and implementing human rights and demonstrating equality, dignity and respect in everything we do.”

“These discriminatory laws, although abolished, continue to have implications for people to this day and it is only right that we address this historic wrong, which criminalised people simple because of who they loved.”

“I am pleased to introduce this bill, which is an important step towards correcting that injustice.”


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