Civil Liberties

If we can 'pardon' past convictions for gross indecency, why not heresy?


The Royal Pardon is usually reserved for those who, having once been convicted of a criminal act, are subsequently discovered to have been innocent of the offence and so granted the Monarch’s prerogative of Grace and Mercy in the remission of any retributive sentence, with all stain and shame upon their name and reputation being thereby expunged from all official records. It usually follows a request by a family member, and may be granted posthumously.

In the case of Alan Turing, the Royal Pardon was granted in 2013 despite his conviction for gross indecency with an under-age boy being sound and in accordance with the law as it stood in 1952. Turing was guilty not only of engaging in homosexual acts, but of what we now term paedophilia (though technically hebephilia). The age of consent in 1952 was 21: his lover was only 19. But, having applied postmodern perspectives of moral relativism to the criminal justice system, it was only a matter of time before Parliament would be lobbied to wipe clean the historic criminal records of the 49,000 other men who were ever convicted of committing acts of gross indecency with other men. It is, after all, profoundly unjust to single out Alan Turing for a Royal Pardon simply because he became something of a code-breaking national hero: what of all the ordinary men who were in consensual relationships with other men? Are only genius mathematicians worthy to receive the Queen’s Grace and Mercy?

Not according to Ed Miliband, who has jumped on the merrily-rolling gay-pardoning bandwagon and decreed that the next Labour government will extend the Royal Pardon granted in to Alan Turing to all those who were convicted of homosexuality, irrespective of the contemporary severity of their crime. If it be legal now, it will be declared legal then – all the way back to the Labouchere Amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, which omitted to define ‘gross indecency’. Since morality develops custom, and ethical perspectives evolve with societal evolution, that which was once illegal and indecent may, by act of Parliament, be made lawful if not decent. It is not quite a re-writing of the history of decadence and degeneracy (Miliband’s proposed expansion – to be known as ‘Turing’s Law’ – falls a little short of the full pardon granted to Turing himself: convictions will be treated as ‘spent’ and so disregarded), but the principle of retroactively permitting that which was once prohibited raises all sorts of legal ethical and moral philosophical complexities.

On 24th October 2012, Labour MP Tom Watson dropped something of a bombshell during PMQs (HERE at 27.00). While MPs were fretting about GDP, growth, fuel tariffs and the West Coast Mainline, a question was hurled into the Commons Chamber about a paedophile network with links to Downing Street and a former prime minister. Mr Watson told a stunned House of Commons:

“The evidence used to convict paedophile Peter Righton, if it still exists, contains clear intelligence of a widespread paedophile ring. One of its members boasts of his links to a senior aide of a former prime minister who says he could smuggle indecent images of children from abroad. The leads were not followed up, but if the file still exists I want to ensure that the Metropolitan Police secure the evidence, re-examine it and investigate clear intelligence suggesting a powerful paedophile network linked to Parliament and No10.”

The Prime Minister responded that this is “a very difficult and complex case”, and added that he was “not entirely sure which former prime minister he is referring to”.

The vacuum of unknown unknowns has since been filled by endless column inches of tawdry gossip. Former Conservative minister Edwina Currie went on to claim that Sir Peter Morrison, PPS to Margaret Thatcher, had sex with 16-year-old boys (when the age of homosexual consent was 21). This may, of course, be true, but it is easy to disparage and defame the dead.

But, in light of  Labour’s new-found moral crusade to right past wrongs relating to sexual morality, there is a problem with Tom Watson’s allegation (and the ongoing police investigation). If we are now to view all of modern history through the postmodern prism of social liberalism, we must surely legislate to amend the statutory provisions relating to paedophilia and decriminalise it retrospectively, thereby rehabilitating all those who were disobeying the law at the time. If the state determines to permit that which it once prohibited in respect of same-sex relations, then contemporary permission must negate and nullify the historic prohibition of paedophilia (or, strictly, hebephilia).

Now that the age of homosexual consent has been equalised at 16, Mr Watson’s allegation of a paedophile ring “leading to No10” is rendered otiose. Certainly, if Peter Righton and Sir Peter Morrison were having sex with 16-year-old boys when the age of homosexual consent was 21, according to Parliament they are no longer a paedophiles.

Indeed, if one were to take an EU-wide perspective on this (being a ‘single legal area’), Tom Watson’s allegations would not stand up to scrutiny in a political union where the age of consent begins in some member states at 12 or 13. There is no agreed EU (or wider European) definition of what constitutes pederasty. And if the mystery prime minister to whom Tom Watson referred were having sex consensually with underage boys (or girls) in (say) the 1970s, the present Prime Minister has absolved his predecessor by redefining both ‘paedo’ and ‘consensual’. If past crimes against children would no longer show on a CRB/DBS certificate, no crime was ever committed.

Accordingly, if the age of consent were to be lowered at some point in the future (as it most assuredly will be), to 15 or even 14 (if only to harmonise with EU ‘ever closer union’), the legal precedent has been set for retrospective absolution. Just as yesterday’s gays can look forward to the effective pardoning of their convictions for ‘gross indecency’, today’s paedophiles can look forward to the eradication of their criminal records, and an assurance that they will not be condemned to the life-long shame of ever having to declare that they were once convicted of under-age sex. They thereby become ‘fit and proper’ people to work with children.

But let us go further. If, in the enlightened perspectives of tolerance, equality and sexual anti-discrimination, Parliament sees fit to ‘pardon’ those who were once found guilty of gross indecency, why, in the enlightened perspectives of theological ecumenism, spiritual sophistication and religious anti-discrimination, will they not pardon those who were once convicted and executed for heresy? Not enough votes in it?