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Clarity urged on gay convictions pardon law

Stonewall UK wants the authorities to publicise the difference between a pardon and legal disregard to avoid further discrimination.

A campaigner has warned the Scottish Government must make clear the difference between a pardon for gay men convicted of now-abolished sexual offences and having the conviction legally disregarded.

Paul Twocock of gay rights organisation Stonewall UK welcomed the planned new legislation to automatically pardon all gay men convicted of historical discriminatory offences and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s apology for what she said were “completely unjust” laws.

He said once the law is passed it must be effectively publicised that men still have to apply for the convictions to be legally disregarded in order to have their criminal records updated.

He warned a failure to make this clear could lead to men being barred from some jobs due to convictions which the government has recognised are wrong.

Giving evidence to Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee on the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Bill, he said similar legislation in England and Wales had sparked “absolute confusion” on the difference between a pardon and disregard.

He said: “That continues in England and Wales and it is a major problem for increasing the uptake of the disregard scheme for people who would be eligible for their crimes to be disregarded.

“People have not understood … when people hear the word pardon they think that means that crime has been deleted, often.

“That means if they do have a historic sexual offence that will come up on a barring scheme criminal records report, if they apply for a job where that is relevant they will still receive the impact and people just really don’t understand that.”

Mr Twocock said the proposed automatic pardon in Scotland, unlike the pardon on application for men in England and Wales, provides a better basis for explaining the important difference.

He said: “You can very clearly say that what this is saying is that the government and the justice system was wrong to prosecute you in this way and that’s why you are receiving a pardon.

“However, those records do still exist and if you would like that to be removed from the record so that it doesn’t come up on any barring scheme check then please apply for a disregard.

“I think being able to get that message across is so important, it does mean that the Scottish Government will need to invest some resources and time in publicising that and really focus on that difference.”

He said the government should work with LGBT organisations on this.

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