'We are sorry' - Government offers pardons to gay men convicted of homosexual acts

Men convicted of homosexual acts will get the right to apply for a pardon, Justice Minister Amy Adams has confirmed.

Justice Minister Amy Adams has introduced a process for those convicted prior to the 1986 law change to have their record wiped. Source: 1 NEWS

The LGBT community has won a significant victory today after Ms Adams announced that men convicted of homosexuality offences prior to the 1986 law change can apply for pardons.

Ms Adams had been considering the proposition since last year, when campaigners delivered a petition to parliament.

She apologised for the trauma suffered by those convicted.

"There is no doubt that homosexual New Zealanders who were convicted and branded as criminals for consensual activity suffered
tremendous hurt and stigma and we are sorry for what those men and their families have gone through," she said.

The 1961 Crimes Act outlawed male sex, whether it was consensual or not.

"Those laws have not represented modern New Zealand for some time," Ms Adams said.

The offences which could be wiped include indecency between males, sodomy and keeping places of resort for homosexual acts.

The fight to change that met fierce resistance, and although reform won, convictions were never erased.

Justice Ministry records show that between 1980 and 1986 there were 879 convictions, but about 80 per cent of those are believed to have convictions which would still be crimes under today's law.

Ms Adams said about 1000 people in total may be eligible, but that is an estimate, as digital records do not exist before 1980.

In late January, the United Kingdom issued thousands of posthumous pardons for homosexual acts which are now no longer considered a crime.

In the British system, there is already a process in place for the living to apply to have past convictions relating to same-sex relationships removed from their records.

The suggestion of a blanket wiping of the crimes was put to Ms Adams, but she said the consensus was that it would not work, and said a case-by-case process is best.

Ms Adams said the system of expunging criminal records has not been done before in New Zealand and the application process will be free for applicants.

There will also be a process in place for relatives of deceased men to apply on their relatative's behalf.