'A pardon is the logical end-line for gay rights debate'

Former CM Allan Bell believes the time is right for apology

A sense of closure and atonement could finally be due for members of the Island's gay community, in light of new proposals by the Department of Home Affairs. 

Potential reform to the Sexual Offences Bill could see an automatic pardon for homosexuals who were deemed criminals under what is now outdated law. 

In support of not only the removal of such convictions but a police apology, is former Chief Minister Allan Bell.

Mr Bell has been quoted as recalling the late 80s and early 90s on the Isle of Man as a 'dark, dark period', but now believes the debate on the legitimacy of the Island's gay community is nearing an end.

The initial debate to decriminalise homosexuality, long after it was brought in the United Kingdom, was a 'hard fought battle' he says, one which saw social attitudes towards homosexuals come with tragic consequences.

"People committed suicide, many people left the Island. It caused divorces, many people lost their jobs, it really was a very unpleasant time."

Mr Bell, who during his 30-year political career championed gay rights on the Island, helped force through the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1992 and more recently, oversaw the passage of the same-sex marriage bill three years ago.

Although this brought the Isle of Man in his words, 'up to international standard', it would appear with the UK's so-called 'Turing's Law' of 2017, the Island is once again playing catch up.

"On the possibility of pardoning those historic convictions, I think it is a legitimate and logical end line to the debate which has been going on, and would help to heal the divides which did cause real problems within the community."

Mr Bell says a process of the now repealed offences was considered whilst he was Chief Minister, but the more pressing matter of gay marriage took precedence.

He says now is 'absolutely the appropriate time' for it, along with an apology, in what he calls 'a climate of forgiveness' over this matter in the UK.

The decision to apologise will ultimately rest with the Council of Ministers, upon conclusion of home affairs' public consultation.

"I would hope they would step back and look at the history of this situation and recognise that a wrong was done to the gay community, a serious wrong, which has destroyed many, many lives and distrupted many, many families."

Police apology

Policies of the then Chief Constable, who worked as a deputy to a fundamentalist police chief in Manchester, caused distress on the Isle of Man according to the former Ramsey MHK, and created a feeling of general oppression from the establishment.  

"Within the gay community, there was a great deal of fear and concern of the actions of the police, or certain police."

Mr Bell says he is 'absolutely sure' that if legislation is passed the police would want to follow suit with CoMin and apologise.

'By virtue of the act' 

Within this section of the proposal to update the Sexual Offences and Obscene Publications Bill, the deparment has tabled two options for the Manx creation of a pardoning law, both requiring the individual or family members of the deceased to formally apply.

One is based on the system used in England and Wales which would see cases looked at in isolation and require a criteria to be met before a pardon is granted.

The other, which is under consideration in Scotland, would see an automatic removal of both convictions and cautions 'by virtue of the act'.

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