Pardon? MPs Take Another Shot At Clearing Turing’s Name

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Days since the Centenary: 32
Days to the Bicentennial: 36,492

It’s déjà vu all over again.

We’ve previously covered the question of whether or not Alan Turing should, or can, receive a pardon for his gross indecency conviction. Several times:

The Debate — Yes, Debate — Over A Pardon for Alan Turing

Grossly Indecent: Blackbeard The Pirate Gets a Pardon, Alan Turing Doesn’t

The Turing Pardon: Why Lord McNally Was Right, But Is Still Entirely Wrong

If you’re not familiar with Turing’s situation, he was convicted of gross indecency simply for having had consensual gay sex with another man. No lack of consent, no one underage, nothing like that. In the 1950s that was the law:

Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures, or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any act of gross indecency shall be guilty of a misdemeanour, and being convicted shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour

Most people now see the old law as having been the result of an irrational prejudice that we no longer embody in our legislation.

And since 2012 is Turing’s centenary and is the international Alan Turing Year, this seems like an opportune moment to clear his name.

Alan Turing dances in the midst of a ticker tape parade, with fireworks, marking the Alan Turing Year.

Alan Turing dances in the midst of a ticker tape parade, with fireworks, marking the Alan Turing Year.

After all, Turing is now scheduled to get the star treatment in a Hollywood biopic, possibly starring Leonardo DiCaprio, so why not a pardon?

Alan Turing adjusts to life in Hollywood after learning of a biopic to be based on his life.

Alan Turing adjusts to life in Hollywood after learning of a biopic to be based on his life.

The hurdle to getting Turing a pardon is a policy in the UK that requires pardons to be used exclusively in cases where there was a wrongful conviction. In Turing’s case this doesn’t apply.

The consensus now is that the law at the time was wrong and immoral, but it was the law and Turing did break it. There is case law that pretty conclusively rules out a pardon in a case such as Turing’s.

Lord Mcnally, Minister of Justice, who previously invoked the policy to deny a pardon

Lord Mcnally, Minister of Justice, from his Parliamentary web page

I previously took the position that none of this this should be a bar to a pardon. The entire hurdle is based on a policy — even the case law is an interpretation and application of the policy — and policies can be changed, usually more easily than laws can.

Getting rid of the policy wouldn’t create havoc — pardons are regularly granted in other common law jurisdictions in a variety of circumstances, including but certainly not limited to wrongful convictions, including my native Canada.

The absence of a similar policy in these places doesn’t suddenly open the floodgates to chaos as pardons are granted willy nilly without principle. Quite the opposite — pardons in these place proceed in an orderly, principled fashion.

I stand by that position, but there’s another debate .

Behind the whole issue of whether or not a pardon is available is the question of whether Turing should get one when other gay men don’t. Some people believe that Turing’s contributions to science and to the Allied victory in World War II justify his receiving an exceptional pardon.

Others — me included — believe that any pardon for Turing should come as part of a package that provides a similar pardon for everyone who was convicted of nothing more than having gay sex. It’s worth noting that there are men still alive today who have to live with a criminal record for no reason other than that they had sex with another man, something that today wouldn’t merit passing mention much less all the trouble that comes with a conviction.

Now there’s a new private members bill that might allow us to circumvent the policy and get Turing a pardon after all, but it wouldn’t actually get rid of the policy, it would just create an exception to it for one man.

Here’s the text of the bill in its entirety.

A Bill to give a statutory pardon to Alan Mathison Turing for offences under section 11 of the Criminal Amendment Act 1885 of which he was convicted on 31 March 1952.
BE IT ENACTED by the Queen’s most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:—
1 Statutory Pardon of Alan Mathison Turing
(1) Alan Mathison Turing, who was born on 23 June 1912 and died on 8 June 1954, and who was convicted of offences under section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885 (gross indecency between men) at the Quarter Sessions at Knutsford in Cheshire on 31 March 1952, is to be taken to be pardoned for those offences.
(2) This Act does not affect any conviction or sentence or give rise to any right, entitlement or liability, and does not affect the prerogative of mercy.
2 Short title
(1) This Act may be cited as the Alan Turing (Statutory Pardon) Act 2012.
(2) This Act extends to England and Wales.

John Leech, a Liberal Democrat MP says:

This man was hero. It’s a simple as that. And no one should treat heroes like this.

That’s true, but it’s not enough. I believe John Leech’s heart is in the right place, but the fact is that no one should be treated like this — no one, not the lowliest of us, not the most obscure, not ever.

I’ve been willing to see Turing get an exceptional pardon if it might help apply pressure to the government for the granting of a blanket pardon to everyone in his position. The question now is: will this bill — which clearly creates an exception for Turing alone — contribute to that kind of pressure?

That’s a judgment call and frankly I’m not sure of the answer. My guess is that it won’t. On the other hand, if it doesn’t then the men who have so far shared Turing’s fate aren’t any worse off, whereas if the law is never passed it will never have a chance to create any pressure and then it’s definite that nothing will change.

I’ve concluded, reluctantly, that I support the bill, but I’d love to hear from others out there. What do you think? Post a comment on this page or write me at

This entry was posted in Alan Turing Year 2012, Centenary, homosexuality, pardon. Bookmark the permalink.

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