Belfast Telegraph

Pardon for past convictions for homosexuality in Northern Ireland

By Donna Deeney

Historic convictions for abolished homosexual offences in Northern Ireland will be disregarded and pardoned through a new law that comes into effect today.

Announced by the Department of Justice the new law, which was agreed by the Assembly in November 2016, means convictions for homosexual offences will be removed from police and court records.

Northern Ireland was the last place in the UK to legalise homosexuality in 1982, 15 years after England and Wales. Although prosecutions were not common since the 1970s, anyone convicted was obliged to declare it on job applications.

Today's move will bring Northern Ireland into parity with England and Wales where disregards have been available since 2012.

Convictions that are disregarded will be considered as never having happened and will no longer appear on criminal records or in any criminal record checks. Anyone who was convicted of an abolished homosexual offence and who has since died is also, by law, pardoned for the offence.

Ulster Unionist councillor Jeff Dudgeon, who campaigned for the law in England and Wales to include Northern Ireland, said it was significant step.

He said: "This will be significant for people here who would have been required to disclose the offence on an application for a job. It's especially important for teachers or people applying to the public sector because now the offence has been expunged.

"Obviously there will be fewer and fewer people that this will apply to but it will be a matter of getting respect for relatives of people who were jailed in the 1960s and who are dead now.

"It is important for these families who have lived with the stigma of having someone branded a criminal because of their sexuality who can hold their head high now. This law is important because it is reflective of the changing mood in society that being gay is not regarded as being exceptional any more."

Green Party MLA Clare Bailey described the criminalisation of homosexuality as a dark chapter in Northern Ireland's history.

She added: "There will have been many people in Northern Ireland who were victimised and vilified down through the years.

"It's a personal choice whether or not individuals apply for a pardon, but I'm delighted that there is a choice."

Lisa Bryson, head of Employment from Belfast law firm Eversheds Sutherland, added: "This is not only a positive step by the Department of Justice, it is a further step forward for the equality agenda in Northern Ireland.

"Until now individuals with such convictions had to declare that they had committed a criminal offence which often served to be prohibitive for those seeking employment, volunteering or accessing services."

Further details can be found at www.nidirect.gov.uk/pardons-and-disregards

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