Historical convictions which run into thousands will be pardoned by a new landmark law passed by the Scottish Parliament. The introduction of the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Bill follows on the heels of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s apology towards men who were charged for engaging in ‘homosexual activities’. The new law means those involved can apply to have historic convictions legally lifted.
Male same-sex activity was decriminalised in Scotland in 1981, prior to that, consensual sex and kissing in public were considered criminal offences, it also took until 2001 for the age of consent to be lowered to 16. The considered offences have haunted those convicted, appearing during background checks for employment or volunteering opportunities.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson, who was responsible for introducing the legislation to Parliament, said, “This marks a key moment where we address a historic wrong, where the law criminalised people simply because of their sexual orientation. This bill can itself not right the massive injustice caused by laws that helped foster homophobia and hatred, criminalised acts between consenting adults, and stopped people from being themselves around their families, friends, neighbours and colleagues.”
Justice Matheson continued, “This legislation does send a clear message that these laws were unjust. The wrong has been committed by the state, not by the individuals—the wrong has been done to them.”
Tim Hopkins, director of leading LGBT+ charity, The Equality Network, responded to the landmark law, “We very much welcome the Parliament passing this bill unanimously. This is concrete recognition of the huge harm that was done to people who were prosecuted or lived under these old laws. Together with the First Minister’s apology, the message is that Scotland has changed for good, and that discrimination is no longer acceptable.”
The Equality Network estimates there are hundreds of gay men still living affected by the historical convictions.
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