Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland, is to make a statement of apology to gay men convicted in the past under Scotland’s historical discriminatory “homosexual offences” laws.
The apology will be made in the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, November 7, to coincide with the publication of a bill to give a pardon for such convictions.
Until 1981, all sexual activity between men was a criminal offence in Scotland. Legislation in 1980 (which came into effect in 1981) decriminalised sex between men over the age of 21 (the age of consent for sex between men and women, or between two women, was then 16). In 1994 the age of consent for sex between men was reduced from 21 to 18, but it was not until 2001 that the discrimination was removed, by equalising the age of consent at 16.
Prior to these changes, men were prosecuted for activity with another man that would have been legal then between a man and a woman, and that is legal today between two men. This included consensual sexual activity in private, and acts such as kissing another man in a public place.
Welcoming the news, Tim Hopkins, Director of the Equality Network the LGBTI charity, said: “We welcome the imminent publication of this bill, and we particularly welcome the announcement today that the First Minister will apologise in the Parliament to all those who were convicted under these discriminatory laws. The apology is important because it shows that it was the discriminatory laws that were wrong, and not the consensual relationships that were made criminal by those laws.”
The bill, to be introduced on November 7, is expected to give a formal pardon for these discriminatory convictions where the activity would not be a crime today. The pardon is expected to apply both posthumously to people who are no longer living, and to those who are living. It will also enable people who have such a conviction on their records to have it removed, so that it no longer shows up on criminal record checks.
Tim Hopkins added: “We look forward to seeing the detail of the bill. If it implements the policy announced by the Scottish Government, it will be a hugely important statement that Scotland regrets the discrimination of the past, and now considers its LGBTI people to be fully equal citizens who deserve equal respect. It will also be of direct practical importance to people who currently have one of these convictions show up on criminal record checks for jobs or volunteer posts.”
The Equality Network estimates that the total number of these historical discriminatory convictions in Scotland runs into thousands, and that there are hundreds of men alive today with such convictions on their records.
Sex between women was never criminalised in this way in Scotland, and the same rules applied to it as applied for sex between a man and a woman.