Today in the House of Lords, a law was agreed which should ensure that every gay and bi man who was unjustly convicted or cautioned by the police in the past for kissing in public, chatting up another man or anything else that would be totally legal today can have that crime deleted from the criminal record.
The motion - which was led by Lord Michael Cashman, but also has full government support - enables the Home Secretary to add other offences to the disregard scheme originally set-up in 2012.
This is important because when the scheme was originally set-up, although it included some of the obvious offences that police used to prosecute gay and bi men in the past like gross indecency (the offence Oscar Wilde was convicted of), it didn’t include a range of other offences which the police used to hound and prosecute individuals, leaving them with criminal records which can still show during checks today.
One particular offence – Section 32 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956, solicitation by men – was used vigorously by police to prosecute men for the simple act of chatting up another man in a public place, or suggesting to another man that he come back to his home.
These arrests often happened in police stings, with plain clothes officers lying in wait outside gay bars, waiting for someone to chat them up or proposition them. This continued into the 1990s, right up until the law was repealed in 2003.
Currently, anyone convicted under that law or similar public order offences which were also used ‘imaginatively’ by police could not get their crime deleted in the disregard scheme.
The new law states that the Government will identify laws like Section 32 that were used to discriminate or persecute and add them into the disregard scheme – so that gay and bi men who were unfairly convicted can have their crime deleted. That includes people in Northern Ireland too, thanks to a number of other amendments which sees the disregard scheme extended there for the first time, with the endorsement of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
This is a major step forward.
Adding the Section 32 offence was one half of the Bill that John Nicolson MP proposed back in October which didn’t get Government support.
However, after listening to representations from Stonewall, Lord Cashman and others, they have now changed their position.
This is a victory for common sense and brings us closer to righting the past persecution of gay and bi men.
We now need to see the Government make a clear apology.
The Government may not agree that there should be an automatic pardon for people still alive, despite promising it to people who have died.
But a clear apology would actually be more powerful – a pardon carries the suggestion that these men "did something wrong". An apology from the Government would be them saying “we were wrong”.
The Government needs to atone for the damage done to the lives of many thousands of gay and bi men and their loved ones by the police, courts and previous Governments who believed that these men should be prevented from being themselves and expressing their love for someone of the same sex.
That apology would finally draw a line under the unjust persecution of gay and bi men in the past.
Were you one of the thousands of men unjustly prosecuted?
If so, Stonewall would like to hear from you - find out how we can help you tell your story