Removing historical convictions and cautions for consensual gay sex from criminal records

Aim of this page

In January 2017, the Justice Secretary announced that thousands of gay and bisexual men convicted of sexual offences which have now been decriminalised would be posthumously pardoned.

This also means that anybody living today with this type of conviction can apply to the Home Office to have it ‘disregarded’. If successful, you will receive an automatic pardon.

This page provides further information about the disregard process and details of organisations that can assist you.

Why is this important?

If you have been convicted of a sexual offence which has now been decriminalised, details of it may still appear on a formal criminal record check unless you apply to have it disregarded.

As many employers have little understanding of legal definitions, you may find yourself being refused an interview/job on the basis of having a conviction for an offence that is no longer illegal.

If this situation applies to you, it’s worth going through the disregard process which, if you are successful, will result in an automatic pardon.

Introduction

The coalition government made a commitment in 2010 to ‘change the law so that historical convictions for consensual gay sex with over 16s will be treated as ‘spent’ and will not show up on criminal records checks’. The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 establishes powers that allow this to happen.

Under the provisions of Chapter 4 of Part 5 of the Act (s.92-101), the Home Secretary may disregard certain convictions (which includes cautions, warnings and reprimands) for decriminalised consensual sex offences. The Act received Royal Assent on 1 May 2012 and these provisions will be commenced on 1 October 2012.

Under these provisions, individuals may apply to the Home Secretary for a formal disregard of their convictions. If the Home Secretary considers that a disregard is appropriate, those convictions disregarded will be deleted or annotated and will no longer be disclosed, including in Criminal Records Bureau certificates or in court proceedings.

The offences that criminalised consensual sex between men over the age of consent were mainly sections 12 and 13 of the Sexual Offences Act (SOA). The provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act encompass these offences, as well as corresponding offences under earlier legislation replaced by the SOA and offences charged via gateway provisions in service law, such as the Army Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957.

A Home Office application handling process was launched on 1 October 2012. The disregard process is triggered by the receipt of an eligible application. Home Office officials will correspond with relevant data controllers to identify any relevant official records which may assist the Home Secretary in reaching a decision. In the event that the final decision is to disregard a conviction, the Home Secretary will request that data controllers delete, or where deletion is not possible, annotate all relevant records.

Eligibility

The following laws are covered:

  • Section 12 or 13 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956
  • Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824
  • Section 61 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861
  • Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885
  • Section 45 of the Naval Discipline Act 1866
  • Section 41 of the Army Act 1881
  • Section 41 of the Air Force Act 1917
  • Section 70 of the Army Act 1955
  • Section 70 of the Air Force Act 1955
  • Section 42 of the Naval Discipline Act 1957

People charged under these laws will only be able to have them disregarded if two key conditions are satisfied:

  1. that all parties involved in the conduct constituting the offence consented to it and were aged 16 or over at the time of the offence
  2. the offence does not involve sexual activity in a public lavatory (which is still illegal)

Applications relating to any other conviction will not be accepted.

How to apply

The application form and guidance notes for applicants are available to download from GOV.UK.

What happens next?

On receipt of your completed application relevant details will be processed. If you application is not eligible to be disregarded you will receive a letter to that effect. In all other cases you will receive an acknowledgement that your application has been received and is being processed.

The Home Office will then contact all relevant data controllers and request them to review their records and provide copies of any relevant documents to the Home Secretary to enable a decision to be made.

Once the Home Secretary has made a decision, you will be informed of the outcome. If your application is successful, the Home Secretary will write to the relevant data controllers and require them to delete or annotate their records accordingly.

What is the effect of the disregard?

Once the Home Secretary has given notice that a conviction has been disregarded and a period of 14 days thereafter has elapsed, a successful applicant will be treated in all circumstances as though the offence had never occurred and need not be disclosed for any purpose.

What if you disagree with the Home Secretary’s decision?

If you disagree with the decision made by the Home Secretary and either have further evidence to submit or consider that an error was made on your initial application form, you should contact the Home Office so that your application can be reviewed. If you consider that the final decision reached in relation to your application is wrong, you have the right under the provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 to seek leave to appeal the decision to the High Court.

Discuss this with others

Read and share your experience on our online forum.

Key sections include:

Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.

  • Home Office – The Home Office is the government department responsible for the disregard process.  You can contact them by emailing chapter4applications@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk or writing to Chapter 4 Applications, SPPU, 4th Floor Fry Building, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF
  • Ministry of Justice – A government body who have responsibility for the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.
  • Stonewall – A lesbian, gay and bisexual charity, who have produced a fantastic guide about who’s eligible and how to apply. This is available to download alongside the information on their website.
  • Galop –  An LGBT charity, have also produced a really useful guide in partnership with Bindmans Solicitors. This is available to download from their website.

More information

  1. To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
  2. Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.

Get involved

Help us to add value to this information. You can:

  1. Comment on this page (below)
  2. Send your feedback directly to us
  3. Discuss your views and experiences with others on our online forum
  4. Share your personal story by contributing to our online magazine, theRecord.
This page was last fully reviewed and updated in February 2017. If you’ve spotted something that needs updating, please let us know by emailing details to advice@unlock.org.uk.