Alan Turing law

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alan Turing, whose 2013 pardon was the impetus for a full pardon.

The "Alan Turing law" is an informal term for the law in the United Kingdom, contained in the Policing and Crime Act 2017,[1] which serves as an amnesty law to pardon men who were cautioned or convicted under historical legislation that outlawed homosexual acts.[2] The provision is named after Alan Turing, the World War II codebreaker and computing pioneer, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952. Turing received a royal pardon posthumously in 2013. The law applies in England and Wales.[2]

Several proposals had been put forward for an Alan Turing law,[3][4][5] and introducing such a law has been government policy since 2015.[6] To implement the pardon, the British Government announced on 20 October 2016 that it would support an amendment to the Policing and Crime Act that would provide a posthumous pardon, also providing an automatic formal pardon for living people who had had such offences removed from their record.[7][8] A rival bill to implement the Alan Turing law, in second reading at the time of the government announcement, was filibustered.[9] The bill received royal assent on 31 January 2017, and the pardon was implemented that same day.[10] The law provides pardons only for men convicted of acts that are no longer offences; those convicted under the same laws of offences that were still crimes on the date the law went into effect, such as cottaging, underage sex, or rape, were not pardoned.[11]

Manchester Withington MP John Leech, often described as 'the architect' of the Alan Turing Law, led a high-profile campaign to pardon Turing and submitted several bills to parliament, leading to the eventual posthumous pardon.[12]


All homosexual acts between men were illegal until the passing of the Sexual Offences Act 1967 in England and Wales, the Criminal Justice Act 1980 in Scotland, and the Homosexual Offences Order 1982 in Northern Ireland. As the three regions are separate jurisdictions, and many elements of criminal law are devolved matters in the United Kingdom, the British Government by convention, only legislated a pardon for England and Wales.[11]

Alan Turing, after whom the proposed law has been informally named, was a mathematician, codebreaker and founding father of computer science who died in 1954 in suspicious circumstances, following his conviction for gross indecency in 1952. A campaign to pardon Turing was led by former Manchester Withington MP John Leech,[13] who called it 'utterly disgusting and ultimately just embarrassing'[14] that the conviction was upheld as long as it was. Turing himself was pardoned posthumously through the royal prerogative of mercy under David Cameron in 2013,[15][16] but contrary to the requests of some campaigners including Leech, the Astronomer Royal Martin Rees and the activist and journalist Peter Tatchell, his pardon was not immediately followed by pardons for anyone else convicted.[17][18] Leech submitted several motions and campaigned for half a decade as an MP for a more general pardon and continued to do so after losing his seat in the 2015 general election.[19]


The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 proposed by David Cameron introduced the disregard procedure, under which men with an offence of "gross indecency between men" on their criminal record could petition to have these offences disregarded during criminal record checks by courts and employers, but fell short of an actual pardon.[6]

While in opposition, the Labour Party under Ed Miliband announced that it would introduce an Alan Turing law if elected at the 2015 general election.[20] The Conservative Party under Cameron subsequently announced the same policy.[6] When Theresa May became Prime Minister following the resignation of David Cameron, she also announced that her government would support the Alan Turing law.[21][22]

Rival bills[edit]

In June 2016, John Nicolson MP introduced a Private Member's Bill, the Sexual Offences (Pardons Etc.) Bill 2016–17, intended to implement the proposal.[23] In October 2016, the Conservative government announced that, instead of supporting the Private Member's Bill's original proposal for a blanket pardon for all, it would enact the proposed changes through an amendment to the forthcoming Policing and Crime Bill 2016. This amendment would provide a posthumous pardon for the dead, make it easier for living individuals to clear their names, and also provide an automatic formal pardon for living people who had had such offences removed from their record through the disregard process.[7][8][24] When Nicolson's bill was debated in Parliament on 21 October 2016, it was successfully filibustered by Conservative MP Sam Gyimah and failed to proceed.[25] The Policing and Crime Bill amendment passed, and received royal assent on 31 January 2017.[10]

The two differed in the process for dealing with cases where the conviction was for an act that would still be considered an offence under current law. Both attempted to exclude these, but Nicolson's bill provided an automatic pardon while the government bill required the petitioner to go through the "disregard process" first. This would mean that the Home Office will investigate each case involving living people to ensure that the act that the petitioner was convicted of is no longer considered a criminal act, to avoid pardoning men convicted of underage sex or rape.[11] More controversially, this means that it would also not pardon men who were arrested in public toilets, as they would today be guilty of the offence of "sexual activity in a public lavatory".[26] The government claimed that without this check, men who were convicted of such an offence would be able to claim that they had been pardoned.[9] Nicolson disagreed and, backed by the LGBT campaign group Stonewall,[26] said that the government was attempting to "hijack" the law by announcing the amendment just prior to the second reading of his Private Member's Bill, and said that his bill already excluded cases where the offence was still considered a crime.[27] The Nicholson bill would not have been able to clear criminal records of men who still carried convictions. This would still have to be done through the disregard process, leading to possible cases in which it would not be clear whether or not a pardon had been granted, described by James Chalmers, Regius Professor of Law at the University of Glasgow, as a "Schrödinger's pardon".[28]


The announcement was broadly welcomed, but some quarters said it did not go far enough. The campaigner George Montague said that he would refuse a pardon, as a pardon suggested that he was guilty of a crime, and instead asked for a government apology.[11]

Matt Houlbrook, Professor of Cultural History at the University of Birmingham, said that the announcement was of both "symbolic and practical importance" to gay men still living with the offences on their criminal record, but noted that using Alan Turing as a figurehead retroactively gave him an identity as a "gay martyr" that he never sought in life.[26][29] James Chalmers, Regius Professor of Law at the University of Glasgow, noted that the disregard process had already provided an effective pardon, and neither implementation of the Alan Turing law would be able to pardon people who had committed acts that, although technically still criminal, are not usually prosecuted (such as sex between a 16-year-old and a 15-year-old or sex in certain public places).[28]

As the law and the disregard process applies only to England and Wales, groups in Northern Ireland and Scotland campaigned for equivalent laws in their jurisdictions.[30][28] The Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) (Scotland) Act 2018 brought in a similar 'disregard' system in Scotland in 2019.[31]

As of January 2017, some 49,000 men had been posthumously pardoned under the terms of the Policing and Crime Act 2017.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Policing and Crime Act 2017 (Part 9, Chapter 1, Sections 164 to 172)". Retrieved 23 September 2022.
  2. ^ a b Alderson, Reevel (15 October 2019). "Pardon for gay men convicted under abolished laws". BBC News. Retrieved 25 August 2020. In England and Wales, where homosexual acts between consenting adults was permitted after 1967, there is similar legislation - dubbed the "Turing law" after the World War Two code-breaker Alan Turing who was pardoned posthumously in 2013 for his conviction of gross indecency.
  3. ^ Al-Othman, Hannah (29 June 2016). "MP proposes new law to pardon historic convictions for homosexuality". London Evening Standard. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  4. ^ Littauer, Dan (24 September 2016). "Scots MP introduces Turing Law to quash anti-gay convictions". Archived from the original on 5 March 2017. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  5. ^ Devlin, Kate (29 June 2016). "SNP MP launches bid to pardon those charged under homophobic laws no longer on statute book". The Herald. Glasgow. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  6. ^ a b c "Cameron Pledges Pardons for 'Outdated' U.K. Gay-Sex Convictions". Bloomberg. 14 April 2015. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  7. ^ a b Craig, Jon (19 October 2016). "Men to be pardoned for abolished sex offences". Sky News. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  8. ^ a b Cowburn, Ashley (19 October 2016). "Government to pardon thousands of gay men under 'Alan Turing Law'". The Independent. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  9. ^ a b Tara John (21 October 2016). "Why a British Bill That Would Pardon Men Convicted of Overturned Gay Sex Law Was Filibustered". Time. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  10. ^ a b "Policing and Crime Act". Retrieved 2 February 2017.
  11. ^ a b c d "'Alan Turing law': Thousands of gay men to be pardoned". BBC News. 20 October 2016. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  12. ^ "John Leech secures historic deal with Government on 'Alan Turing Law' – Out News Global". Out News Global. 20 October 2016. Retrieved 2 November 2018.
  13. ^ "John Leech secures historic deal with Government on 'Alan Turing Law'". Out News Global. 20 October 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  14. ^ "MP calls for pardon for computer pioneer Alan Turing". BBC News. 1 February 2012. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  15. ^ Swinford, Steven (23 December 2013). "Alan Turing granted Royal pardon by the Queen". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013.
  16. ^ Wright, Oliver (23 December 2013). "Alan Turing gets his royal pardon for 'gross indecency' – 61 years after he poisoned himself". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 23 December 2013.
  17. ^ Tatchell, Peter G (24 December 2013). "Alan Turing: Was He Murdered By the Security Services?". The Huffington Post UK. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  18. ^ Hayley Dixon (24 December 2013). "Alan Turing pardon should apply to all homosexuals, say campaigners". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 24 December 2013. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  19. ^ Beth Abbit (20 October 2016). "Thousands of people convicted for homosexual acts to be posthumously pardoned under 'Alan Turing Law'". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  20. ^ Matthew Holehouse (3 March 2015). "Ed Miliband proposes 'Turing's Law' to 'pardon' convicted gay men". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  21. ^ "Government 'committed' to Alan Turing gay pardon law". BBC News. 22 September 2016. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  22. ^ Cowburn, Ashley (21 September 2016). "Theresa May committed to introducing the 'Alan Turing Law'". The Independent. Archived from the original on 22 September 2016. Retrieved 22 September 2016.
  23. ^ "Sexual Offences (Pardons Etc.) Bill 2016–17 – UK Parliament". Parliament of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 24 September 2016.
  24. ^ Bianca Britton (21 October 2016). "Thousands of gay men in UK to be pardoned for now-abolished sex offenses". Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  25. ^ "'Turing Bill' for gay pardons fails in Parliament". BBC News. 21 October 2016.
  26. ^ a b c Sewell Chan (20 October 2016). "Thousands of Men to Be Pardoned for Gay Sex, Once a Crime in Britain". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  27. ^ "UK government accused of trying to 'hijack' plans for 'Turing's law'". Evening Telegraph. 21 October 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  28. ^ a b c James Chalmers (24 October 2016). "Schrödinger's pardon: the difficulties of the Turing Bill". Democratic Audit. Retrieved 24 October 2016.
  29. ^ Matt Houlbrook (8 August 2013). "Pardoning Alan Turing might be good politics, but it's certainly bad history". Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  30. ^ "'Alan Turing law': Call for gay and bisexual men in NI to receive pardons". BBC News. 20 October 2016. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  31. ^ Alderson, Reevel (15 October 2019). "Pardon for gay men convicted under abolished laws". Retrieved 15 October 2019.
  32. ^ "Thousands of gay men pardoned for past convictions". BBC News. 31 January 2017. Retrieved 31 January 2017.