The history of criminal convictions against gay and bi men
Until 1967 anal sex between men (buggery) was unlawful. People caught were prosecuted under Section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 and Section 12 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956.
The Sexual Offences Act (1967) decriminalised consensual sex between men over 21 and in private, in England and Wales. In Scotland consensual sex between men was decriminalised by the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act (1980). While sexual acts between women have never been specifically outlawed in the UK, some prosecutions for indecent assault were made in the past.
The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994) reduced the age of consent for gay and bi men in England and Wales to 18, and in 2001 to 16. These laws no longer exist.
In May 2004, the Sexual Offences Act (2003) repealed the sexual offences of gross indecency and buggery which were deleted from the statutes.
Gross indecency with another man
The offence of gross indecency was introduced in 1885. While there was no set definition of gross indecency in law, it was used to prosecute people for a whole range of ‘homosexual acts’ when it could not be proven they’d engaged in buggery. People were charged with the offence originally under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, and subsequently Section 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956.
In 2016, Teresa May said her government was committed to introducing an ‘Alan Turing Law’ through an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill. The amendment was proposed by Stonewall founder Lord Cashman and was an area Stonewall had been campaigning around. The law meant the convictions of about 50,000 gay men who had died were automatically deleted, while those still alive could apply for statutory pardons through the Home Office. It is important to note that only 189 applications have been approved as of 2019, and the Government have been called upon to take further action in proactively pardoning those who are still alive.
The Alan Turing law is now contained in the Police and Crime Act 2017 and includes a statutory pardon for men historically convicted. For individuals who are still alive they will automatically be pardoned if and when they apply for their conviction to be “disregarded” (using this process introduced in 2012). This was accompanied by an official apology from the Government to everyone, both living and dead, persecuted under these laws and a commitment to enable more gay and bi men still alive to have discriminatory convictions deleted from their criminal record. Only applies in England and Wales. But similar changes have been lobbied for in Scotland and NI.
Loitering with intent
The police also maliciously prosecuted people for being in an area where they suspected gay and bi men were having sex. Often men were prosecuted under Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 for frequenting with intent (commonly known as loitering with intent).
Members of the armed forces who were prosecuted for the above offences were sometimes charged under separate laws covering the armed forces.
Disregarding certain historical convictions from criminal records
From 1 October 2012, people in England and Wales with convictions and cautions for acts which are no longer unlawful, can apply to the Home Office to have these offences disregarded from their criminal records.
For further information contact Stonewall's Information Service.