Saturday, November 26, 2011

Why I'm not supporting the campaign for a pardon for Alan Turing

There's a new petition to the British government that's asking for a pardon for the convinction of Alan Turing. It says:
We ask the HM Government to grant a pardon to Alan Turing for the conviction of 'gross indecency'. [...] A pardon can go to some way to healing this damage. It may act as an apology to many of the other gay men, not as well known as Alan Turing, who were subjected to these laws.
Regular readers will know that I was the person behind the 2009 Alan Turing apology petition that resulted in the government apology. It's understandable that people have today been asking me what I think about this current campaign.

I think it's a mistake.

Firstly, in recent years the British government pardoned the soldiers who were executed for cowardice or desertion during the First World War. The pardon came about because of campaigning by the soldiers' families and because there was serious doubt that these boys and men were actually cowardly. They were most likely suffering from shell-shock and other traumatic stress. In Turing's case there's really no argument that he simply broke the law. There aren't any circumstances that change that. The law itself was awful (hence my campaign), but it's not clear to me that a pardon is appropriate.

Secondly, even if a pardon is appropriate, a pardon for simply Turing would be unjust to the other gay men who suffered under the law. There were many, many others. And there are men alive today living in Britain with a criminal record because of offenses committed during the time the laws were in force. I could get behind a petition for a pardon for all those people, especially since living people are still hurt by that law, but not just for Turing. Pardoning him doesn't help the living.

But even that's unnecessary. Subsequent to the 2009 apology campaign the UK government introduced legislation that actually does roll back the criminal convictions of gay men. The Protection of Freedoms bill has already passed all stages in the House of Commons, two readings in the House of Lords and enters (this coming Monday) committee stage. That means it's close to being law.

Chapter 4 of that Act specifically allows for the disregarding of convictions under the old law that was used against Turing. Once disregarded the law causes their convictions to be deleted. It's not quite the same thing as a pardon, but its effect is to lift the burden of a criminal record from these living men.

So, while I'm sure the current campaign is a heartfelt attempt to express utter outrage at what happened to Alan Turing, I can't support it.

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10 Comments:

Blogger Tim Trent said...

I would support a campaign to pardon ALL gay men convicted by this awful law. Like you I do not support an isolated Turing Pardon. The reasons you have expressed are sound and substantial.

10:38 PM  
Blogger Stephen Fry said...

Turing needs no pardon. He did no wrong other than break a wicked law. It is the British parliament, the Labouchère Amendment and other sexual laws as well as judicial and police practices that should be begging for pardon.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Jon Collins said...

I don't know why I didn't see the original petition, but I didn't; equally, I didn't know about the changes in the law. All of which I applaud. However, what the current petition appears to achieve is more visibility for what was a crass situation, and while the letter of the law may be changing, the spirit needs all the help it can get. I support the petition, even if it is not accurately phrased, concerns only one person, is about to be superseded or indeed, if the laws it referenced are not based on a valid premise.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Jon Collins said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:55 PM  
Blogger Nike Shoes Lover said...

Turing doesn't get a pardon but this IRA bloke does?

http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/queen-pardoned-ira-fugitive-14753412.html

3:25 PM  
Blogger pmt6sbc said...

Firstly, Turing had no respect for a bad law, and had the courage to break it, knowing he might get caught. It's time to get the Government to express tacit approval of Turing's courage by pardoning Turing for breaking the law.
Secondly, getting Turing a pardon is a significant step towards a situation where one can raise the case of others. It's a PRECEDENT no less.

4:28 PM  
Blogger Dave Parsons said...

While Turing needs no pardon- those who hounded him to death desreve to pay for what they dis. This man quite litterally and directly saved their lives with his work on Enigma- They must be named shamed and where they are still alive publicly villified and humiliated for what they did

11:20 PM  
Blogger Dave Parsons said...

While I agree with Stephen Fry whether he is the celb or not, those who persecuted Alan Turing quite simply and directly owed him their lives. As a result should be named, shamed and where they remain alive be publicly humiliated and vilified for what they did. As this is the only way in which state institutions 'Learn Lessons'

11:24 PM  
Blogger Dave Parsons said...

While Turing needs no pardon- those who hounded him to death desreve to pay for what they dis. This man quite litterally and directly saved their lives with his work on Enigma- They must be named shamed and where they are still alive publicly villified and humiliated for what they did

11:27 PM  
Blogger Chris Rust said...

For anybody who thinks that a pardon for Alan Turing would perpetuate an injustice and be the wrong way to honour this great man, I have started a petition here
http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/uk-parliament-don-t-insult-alan-turing-with-a-pardon

3:38 PM  

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