Alan Turing and the Alan Turing law

alan turing

Ewha Law School

Jungwoo Kang


The Alan Turing Law refers to the amnesty law in the Policing and Crime Act 2017 in the UK, which emerged to pardon men who were convicted under the historical laws that forbade homosexual acts. The provision is named after Alan Turing, who is a mathematician, codebreaker and computer pioneer. He died in 1954, aged 41 after poisoning himself with cyanide. It was two years after he was convicted of gross indecency. His biography is the basis for the film and the television play, The Imitation Game, and those brought Turing’s legacy to a wider audience. The success of the works show the worldwide interests towards his dramatic life as a genius codebreaker of Bletchley Park and a gay man in the 1900s. The 2017 Act was broadly welcomed despite of some arguments that it was not enough.

In England and Wales, homosexual acts between men were illegal until the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised homosexual acts between two men over the age of 21. Although the law changed and homosexual acts are not illegal under the laws today, people who were convicted under the old laws were left with the criminal records. Alan Turing was given a posthumous pardon through the royal prerogative of mercy in 2013 following a campaign by John Leech who was former Manchester Withington MP. However, it was not followed by pardons for other convicted people, so many LGBT civil rights advocacy and MPs had called for a law to pardon those people. The government has tried to enact such a law since 2015.

The British government announced that it would support an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill, so that it could provide both a posthumous pardon for the dead and an automatic formal pardon for living people. The bill received royal assent on 31 January 2017, and the pardon was implemented that same day. The law only provides pardons for men convicted of acts that are no longer offences, so those convicted under the same laws of offences that are still illegal today, such as non-consensual sex or sex with someone under the age of 16 will not be pardoned. On the day of implementation, around 49,000 people were given posthumous pardons under the 2017 Act.

Justice Minister Sam Gyimah said it was “hugely important that we pardon people convicted of historical sexual offences who would be innocent of any crime today”. However, there are some who did not want to be granted a pardon. For example, George Montague who was convicted of gross indecency in 1974 said it is wrong to give a pardon as accepting it means he is guilty.

the imitation game

The film, The Imitation Game shows how Alan Turing’s life was worsening after being convicted of indecency and undergoing chemical castration which he chose instead of being given a jail sentence. His short life saved millions of lives during World War II, and left a huge impact on promotion of gay rights. Turing’s great niece Rachel Barnes said “Because we shouldn’t be thinking about his sexuality, we should really be focusing on the successes of this incredible man in history who has done so much for the country and for the world”. The Act may not be satisfying all, but surly contributing to fight discrimination against sexuality.


BBC News (2016) ‘Alan Turing law’: Thousands of gay men to be pardoned. Available at

BBC News (2017) Thousands of gay men pardoned for past convictions. Available at

Bowcott, O. (2017) UK issues posthumous pardons for thousands of gay men. The Guardian. Available at

Policing and Crime Act 2017

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