It is expected that the full details of the Protection of Freedoms Bill will be announced later today. These will include moves to narrow the scope of the DNA database, introduce restrictions on CCTV cameras and a scaling back on the checks on people working with children.
In 1967, consensual gay sex was decriminalised in England and Wales for males over the age of 21, it took until 1980 for decriminalisation in Scotland and 1982 for decriminalisation in Northern Ireland.
In 1994, the age of consent for gay men was reduced from 21 to 18, and in 2000, it was reduced further to 16, equalising with the age of consent for straight people.
However, these changes in the law were not retrospective, so there are a considerable number of men who are required to disclose that they have a criminal record for a sexual offence, despite the action that they took part in being completely legal now.
These convictions need to be disclosed when applying for certain jobs and even for volunteering in hospitals or with children as they will be listed on a person’s Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) certificate.
The original announcement by Mr Cameron followed a question submitted by a PinkNews.co.uk reader in a Questions and Answer session with the Conservative leader published in April. Mr Cameron wrote on PinkNews.co.uk: “We will change the law so that any past convictions for consensual homosexual sexual activities, which have since become lawful, will be treated as spent, and will not be disclosed on a criminal record check when applying for a job. This is a question of justice – and it’s right that we should change the law and wipe the slate clean.”
Although a rule passed in 2003 does mean that people convicted of now legal consensual sex are no longer listed on the Sex Offenders Register, the conviction remained on any individual’s criminal record. Mr Cameron proposes that an amendment to the Exceptions Order to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act means these convictions will no longer show up on a CRB check by classing them as ‘spent convictions.’
In an article for PinkNews.co.uk, Mr Cameron wrote: “I believe heart and soul in equality: the whole idea of prejudice towards people on the basis of their sexuality is quite wrong and that’s why I back civil partnerships, why I told the Tory conference that commitment through marriage was equally valid whether between a man and a woman, a man and a man or a woman and a woman – and it’s why a Conservative government will put new rules in place to tackle homophobia and support gay couples.
“Despite this, I am aware that there will remain some doubters. But have no fear: the Party has changed, the changes we have made are supported by those serving in my team and those changes are lasting. So far as I am concerned, it is one of the touchstone issues that define the modern Conservative Party.”
A review for the Home Office by Sunita Mason at the start of 2010 recommended that there should be a change in the law, but then home secretary Alan Johnson refused to pledge to do so. In a House of Commons statement he wrote: “This is a complex area, but once again I am anxious to ensure that the disclosure process is proportionate and I will be asking officials to look at this further.”
Since the general election, the Labour party have signalled their support for the move.