The government has rejected calls for men who were prosecuted for homosexuality before its decriminalisation to be posthumously pardoned.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord John Sharkey proposed an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill currently being debated in Parliament.
Under section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, the so-called ‘Labouchère amendment’, homosexuality was made a crime in the UK.
Section 11 said “the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency with another male person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour”. It applied to homosexual acts “in public or private” and could carry a sentence of imprisonment or chemical castration.
The two most famous prosecutions under this law were playwright Oscar Wilde and World War II codebreaker Alan Turing, who received a posthumous royal pardon last year.
Although the law was repealed in 1967, those who were prosecuted under the 1885 law could not have their convictions expunged from the record until new legislation in 2012.
Lord Sharkey said that 75,000 men were convicted while the law was in place and only 16,000 of them were still alive to take advantage of the 2012 legislation.
He said his proposed amendment would give equal treatment to all men, dead or alive, who were convicted under the “cruel and homophobic” laws of the past. The ban against homosexuality was “a serious historical injustice” which needed to be put right.
The peer’s amendment was withdrawn following objections from the government.
Justice Minister Lord Faulks said there would be no “practical benefit” to the amendment and it would put a “disproportionate burden” on the Home Office.
Lord Sharkey called this response “legalistic and mean-spirited”.
Photo by Alberto Garcia via Flickr