Gay men prosecuted and convicted under pre-1967 anti-homosexuality laws have won the right to have the convictions wiped from their criminal records via a new law, which came into force yesterday.
The new law is included in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. Under chapter four, part five of the Act (sections 92-101) the Home Secretary is granted the power to disregard certain convictions, which include cautions, warnings and reprimands for decriminalised sexual offences.
The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 was given royal assent back in May 2012, but these provisions only came into effect on 1 October.
Homosexuality was illegal in the UK until the Sexual Offences Act 1967 which decriminalised sexual acts in private between consenting adults over the age of 21. The age of consent for gay men was lowered to 18 by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, and was then lowered to 16 in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000.
All those convicted under these Acts and those convicted under related so-called 'gateway legislation' including the Army Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957 can apply to the Home Secretary to have their convictions disregarded. The Act also allows those convicted under section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824, for 'loitering with intent' to have their convictions disregarded.
Under the Act convictions can only be disregarded if the applicant was 16 or over at the time of conviction (effectively the age of consent currently) and if the offence did not involve sex in a public lavatory, which is still an offence under section 71 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003.
The lesbian, gay and bisexual charity Stonewall was one of the key groups lobbying for this change in the law.
Ben Summerskill is their chief executive.
"Thousands of men who've been burdened with homophobic convictions can clear their names and Stonewall stands ready to help them," he said, referring to the legal advice service which Stonewall is running to assist with applications.
"We never forget that the equality we enjoy today came too late for many," he added.
Men Prosecuted For Consensual Gay Sex Can Have 'Buggery' Criminal Records Overturned (The Huffington Post)
Disregarding convictions for decriminalised sexual offences (The Home Office)