Belfast Telegraph

'Little surprise' just two Northern Ireland men apply for gay sex crime pardons

Jeff Dudgeon
Jeff Dudgeon
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

A gay rights campaigner has said it was of "little surprise" just two people in Northern Ireland applied to have their convictions quashed for now-abolished sex crimes.

Jeffrey Dudgeon said the symbolism of the law change would be viewed as more important to some than going through a process.

And, as the BBC reports, their applications were denied.

In 2016 the Assembly adopted the so-called Turing Law which allows those convicted of gay offences to have their convictions disregarded as well as dropping a requirement for the offences to be disclosed.

Homosexual acts were decriminalised in Northern Ireland in 1982.

Those with records can apply to the Department of Justice to have their convictions disregarded. It is not known why the men had their applications rejected although the criteria is limited.

Under the legislation those convicted of offences such as buggery, gross indecency and procuring others to commit homosexual acts can apply. The activity must have been consensual, with a person aged 17 or over and must not be a current offence. For example sexual activity in a public toilet remains a crime.

It is free to apply to the service and anyone convicted of a past offence that has since passed away is automatically pardoned.

It is estimated a "few hundred" people could be eligible to apply for offences dating back to the 1950s.

Former Belfast UUP councillor Jeffrey Dudgeon - who once took a legal challenge to the change the law on homosexuality in Northern Ireland - said the figures came as little surprise.

He explained the symbolism of the law change meant many would be content to allow the matter to rest.

"It was more physiological," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It is also the case that we are talking about crimes before 1982 so for many of those involved they will be at least aged in their 60s and retired.

"The important thing was the change in the law and the apology and also for those posthumous pardons. That would have been helpful for their friends and relatives.

"That was the key."

Mr Dudgeon described as "very sad" those applications which were not approved by the Department of Justice.

"They must have felt they deserved to have got it," he continued.

"It was important to get the laws changed and that recognised and it was politically significant the DUP endorsed those pardons - which was a first for that party."

LGBT support group The Rainbow Project said it was disappointing more people did not apply to have their records wiped clean.

"It doesn't take away from the important message sent by the introduction of pardons," said spokesman John O'Doherty.

Famous World War Two code-breaker Alan Turing was convicted of gross indecency with a 19-year-old in 1952 and chemically castrated. He later took cyanide and died in 1954.

He was pardoned in 2013 following a private members bill in the Commons and new laws introduced to expunge the record of those previously convicted under the outdated laws.

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