The Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Bill had its final stage 3 debate in the Scottish Parliament, yesterday afternoon (June 7).
THE Bill, that pardons people convicted of the old discriminatory offences involving sex between men was passed by a vote of 119-0.
Tim Hopkins, Director of the Scottish LGBTI charity, Equality Network, said: “We very much welcome the Parliament passing this bill. 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 public apology in the Parliament in November, the message is that Scotland has changed for good, and that discrimination is no longer acceptable.
“The next stage will be to implement and publicise the new law. Publicity will be crucial so that all those affected by these historical convictions get to hear about it.
“LGBTI people continue to face prejudice and hostility, and there is much more to do. We look forward to continuing to work with the Scottish Government, on the forthcoming reform of the Gender Recognition Act for trans people, and other work to address homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, and to promote fairness for all.”
The bill states clearly that these historical convictions were wrong and discriminatory, and the First Minister of Scotland, made a public apology for this on behalf of the Scottish Government when the bill was published on November 7 last year.
The bill gives a formal pardon for these convictions where the activity would not be a crime today. The pardon applies both posthumously to people who are no longer living, and to those who are living. The bill also enables people who have one of these convictions on their records to have it removed (called a “disregard”), so that it no longer shows up on criminal record checks for employment or volunteering.
Tim Hopkins added: “The bill does a better job than the equivalent legislation in the rest of the UK. Unlike that legislation, it provides an automatic pardon to people who are still alive, and also covers all the old discriminatory offences, including where men were prosecuted simply for chatting up other men – called ‘importuning’.”
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, or just chatting up another man in a public place.
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.
It is likely to take some months for the Scottish Government to put in place the regulations that will set out how criminal records will be updated when a disregard is granted, so it is expected that the new law will come into effect towards the end of the year.