Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee has unanimously backed the general principles of the Historical Sexual Offences (Pardons and Disregards) Bill.
The Bill pardons men convicted of same-sex sexual activity that no longer constitute a crime, and offers to ‘disregard’ their criminal records. Members concluded that the Bill, in acknowledging the ‘wrongfulness’ of previous laws and providing a remedy, gives some redress to those affected by discriminatory laws. Other options considered, such as financial compensation, or providing automatic disregards, were seen to be either not appropriate or impractical.
The Committee is also appealing to the Scottish Government to ensure the criminal record disregard application is well publicised and as straightforward to use as possible. They have also suggested that support could be provided through either the third sector or legal aid, if necessary.
Speaking as the report was published, Committee Convener, Christina McKelvie MSP, said:
"The unanimous Committee backing is an important step forward for this Bill.
“Although the pardon is automatic, we would encourage anybody eligible to apply for the disregard. This means that decriminalised offences won't show up on background checks if you’re doing something like applying for a new job or trying to become a volunteer with a protected or vulnerable group.
“The Committee hopes this Bill will help people to move on with their lives, and that we are helping to right a historic wrong.”
The Bill will now continue on for possible amendments at Stage 2, before a final debate and vote of the full Parliament at Stage 3. It is not yet known when the disregard scheme will open for applications.