Soldiers and marines to finally be pardoned for historic gay sex offences

Professor Paul Johnson, lord Alistair Lexden and lord Michael Cashmancelebrate the Armed Forces Bill, which will finally fix a centuries-old mistake and pardon soldiers and marines for historic gay sex offences. And not a moment too soon.

We’re thrilled that the Armed Forces Bill, which was introduced in parliament this week, contains an important clause that will address centuries of persecution of gay and bisexual men who served in the Army and Royal Marines.

The bill will grant posthumous pardons to any soldier or marine who was convicted of or cautioned for the now-abolished offence of buggery – an offence that was used for hundreds of years to criminalise men who had sexwith men. 

Although the Policing and Crime Act 2017 granted similar posthumous pardons to some armed forces personnel, it did not apply to historical offences relating to the Army and Royal Marines prior to 1881. 

The Armed Forces Bill will grant posthumous pardons to any person convicted or cautioned for an offence of buggery by the courts martial under Articles of War, which were made under annual Mutiny Acts passed by parliament stretching back to 1688. 

There is a poignant coincidence that this breakthrough comes at the time when It’s a Sin is such a talking-point, focusing much attention on past injustice and suffering.

A pardon will be automatically granted, when the legislation passes, to a soldier or marine if the other person involved in the conduct constituting the offence consented to it and was aged 16 or over, and any such conduct would not be an offence under a provision in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 concerning sexual activity in a public lavatory.

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Back in 2017 we were delighted to work with the government in order to make adequate provision to grant Royal Navy personnel posthumous pardons extending back to 1661. Since then, we have worked consistently for the last four years in an attempt to gain posthumous pardons for those soldiers and marines who were badly treated by cruel laws now rightfully repealed.

We are pleased to see clause 18 of the Armed Forces Bill which, when enacted, will make reparations, as far as they are possible, to those men so sadly let down by the country that they were serving. These were men who, simply because of their sexual orientations, were prosecuted and punished. 

The persecution of LGBT+ people in our country has a long history. With the Armed Forces Bill, our country will take one more very important step in addressing that persecution and making sure that it never happens again. 

There is a poignant coincidence that this breakthrough comes at the time when It’s a Sin is such a talking-point, focusing much attention on past injustice and suffering. 

The posthumous pardons that we have worked hard to ensure be granted will now be considered in a bill that was presented to the House of Commons by secretary Ben Wallace with the support of the prime minister, the attorney general, secretary Priti Patel and other ministers. When it passes, it will close a desperately sad chapter of our history, and right some very great wrongs of the past. 

We continue in our work with the government to ensure that the disregard scheme in England and Wales – which allows those people living with a conviction or caution for a repealed homosexual offence to have this disregarded and be pardoned – is extended to further address past injustices suffered by LGBT people.