Jim Allister: Retrospective gay pardons may be illegal in Northern Ireland
The possibility of pardoning gay men who were convicted in Northern Ireland prior to homosexuality being decriminalised may be illegal, a QC has suggested.
There has been a growing campaign for those convicted under laws which were not abolished until 1982 to have their criminal record retrospectively wiped clean.
However, according to TUV leader Jim Allister the campaign could be asking for something which is currently impossible – because of equality laws which were designed to protect minorities, including the gay community.
Mr Allister, who is a veteran QC, told the News Letter that he personally opposed moves to issue pardons for homosexuality.
However, he also suggested that such a move might not be legally possible.
The North Antrim MLA said: “The rush to pander to the latest LGBT demand, namely, pardons for historic offences, itself highlights the inequality which so often attends such pandering.
“Gross indecency involving gay men is not the only sexual offence which has become obsolete, but it is the only one for which pardon is being demanded.
“Some sex crimes involving heterosexuals have also been decriminalised over the years, but I hear no demand for pardons in this respect.
“What about the many young men convicted of consensual unlawful carnal knowledge with 16-year-old girls before the age of consent was reduced from 17 to 16? No one is campaigning for pardons for them.”
Mr Allister said that the bill which enacted the Belfast Agreement – which put into law that individuals could not be discriminated against because of their sexuality – could have the unintended consequence of making a selective pardon unlawful.
Mr Allister said: “Given Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, it may be discriminatory and thus unlawful in Northern Ireland to offer pardons on the basis of sexual orientation.
“What an irony if those who demand the most on ‘equality grounds’ were denied in Northern Ireland the GB-proposed pardon because it would discriminate on sexual orientation grounds.
“In my opinion it is foolishness to rewrite history by retrospective decriminalisation.
“If that had been the intention of the decriminalisation legislation, then, it could have said so. It did not.
“Thus, in my opinion, those who broke the law at any point in time should not be treated as if they hadn’t years later, whoever they are.”