Alan Turing Pardon Rejected

British officials have ruled that Alan Turing cannot be posthumously pardoned for his convictions for homosexual acts. The government had already issued an official apology for the treatment.

Turing was a leading pioneer in computer science, helping develop one of the first computers that users could reprogram using stored memory, rather than the device being hard-wired. In effect, his work created what we understand as a computer today (as opposed to a single-purpose device.) He also helped crack the German Enigma encryption system during the second world war.

As we have previously covered, Turing was convicted in 1952 of gross indecency, which at the time covered his actions in having a sexual relationship with a man. He was forced to choose between imprisonment and chemical castration, opting for the latter. The conviction meant Turing lost security clearance to work on government encryption projects. Two years later he committed suicide.

In September 2009, after an online campaign and petition, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown made a formal apology, noting that “The debt of gratitude he is owed makes it all the more horrifying, therefore, that he was treated so inhumanely.”

A later campaign called for Turing to receive an official pardon for his convictions. However, Justice Minister Lord McNally has said that such a move is not possible as under the British legal system and government policy, pardons are only given in specific circumstances. They are not given in cases where it later becomes clear the person did not commit the offense, but neither are they given in cases such as this where the offense itself has later been abolished.

Pardons are instead generally only given where the person concerned has committed the act but is “morally innocent”, the most famous example being the posthumous pardon of soldiers shot for cowardice during the first world war. McNally explained that, however repulsive the law may seem in hindsight, Turing used rational judgment in knowingly breaking the law and being aware of the potential consequences.

John Graham-Cumming, who led the original campaign for an apology, has previously said he agrees a pardon is inappropriate. As well as noting the legal barrier, he argues it would be unfair to pardon Turing without doing the same for everyone else convicted in similar circumstances. He also pointed out that then-pending legislation (which has now become law) means that although there are no pardons, the criminal records of anyone still living who was convicted of homosexual acts have been officially deleted.


12 Responses to Alan Turing Pardon Rejected

  1. I understand that our legal system lacks the mechanics to produce a pardon for Turing, but how can anyone claim that he used "rational judgement" when deciding to break an immoral and impossible law. I read this as basically saying "Well he chose to be gay".
    P.S. Could you please provide a source for the McNally quote.

  2. Its hard to keep a clinical eye to the law without feeling your heart strings pulled, especially in this case. After reading the governments response I think it is appropriate.
    As to Adrian's comment, he may or may not have chosen to be gay(it is really not germane to the pardon), but he did choose to break the law(even if it was a immoral one by our standards). Hopefully his case and others will serve as a signpost striking down these kinds of laws, not just to our generation, but to the future.

  3. People are punished for breaking laws they were driven to break. Child molesters are driven by their sexuality, serial killers are often driven by various forms of mental illness…that doesn't mean they shouldn't be punished for knowingly breaking the law to indulge their urges.

  4. As I said I do understand the pardon isn't possible, it was just the thoughtlessness of the comment that angered me (definitely pulling on my heart strings, I can't claim to be objective here). I also fail to see how following your heart and loving and making love to a consenting adult isn't considered to be a morally innocent when the alternative is denial and life long celibacy.
    As to Andrew's comment, you raise an interesting point about motivation but you have to remember his crime was against the state and morals of the country, he harmed no one and in fact only engaged in the act with a consenting adult, that is the part that changes the notion.

  5. Adrian, you're arguing against the law, which has already been repealed. I thoroughly agree with you – the law was wrong, and it has been repealed. That doesn't change the fact that he did, knowingly, break the law. To return to my earlier point, is a paedophile to be considered morally innocent when the alternative is denial and life long celibacy? It's not saying that he chose to be gay, it's that he chose to *act* on what were, at the time and incorrectly, illegal impulses that makes him not 'morally innocent'.

    The men shot for cowardice weren't pardoned because it was decided that the cowardice law was incorrect, it was because many of them were found posthumously to have been suffering from what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They literally were not responsible for their actions, so holding them responsible for those actions was wrong – they were morally innocent. That is the distinction.

    • Andrew, as a gay man, I am disturbed that your analogy is to compare me to a child molester. It is hard for me to read your argument when you so assertively link child molesters and gay men are alike prior to making homosexuality legal.

      Your psuedo crimonological theory suggests that our urges can and should be relegated to perverse and not mentally sound persons who commit rape and murder.

      Also, your take on celibacy and "denial of urges" lacks the depth of human thinking and the complexity of being human. How does pre – PTSD more morally innocent than repression of human sexual rights of consenting adults?

  6. You make a very convincing case Andrew but my personal view is that the solider example and Alan Turing's case (in which he volunteered the information on his homosexual relationship) are analogous enough to warrant moral innocence. I have to concede that I cannot make a strong enough case based purely on fact to convince you (or any legal authority) of the merits of re-examination.
    I just find the comments by McNally to be insensitive.
    Just to respond to your point on pedophilia, while intellectually it is an interesting comparison, you have to account for the violent or coercive nature of the crime against a person unable to (legally) consent to the act.

    @RealThndrMonkey pretty much hit the nail on the head as far as I'm seeing it, this conservative government has aligned itself absolutely opposed to the rights of homosexuals, let us not forget that these are the people who banned the teaching of homosexual relationships or the mere acknowledgement that homosexuals exist in our classrooms until 9 years ago (section 28), and elected a Mayor of London with who made the same man on dog comparisons as Rick Santorum.

    Sorry for the rant..

  7. I'd just like to thank you guys for that rarest of things – a helpful, thoughtful discussion in a comments section :) I think we've reached a point where we may not agree, but can at least see where we're all coming from.

  8. I agree Adrian using that analogy seems to draw parallels where there are none. Even if it is factually correct, it is far to sensational to be useful.

    A better one to use would be use Prohibition in the US and those prosecuted under those laws.

  9. They gave a pardon to the pirate Blackbeard!!!

    In a letter to a friend after his conviction he wrote that people would now think:

    "Turing believes machines think,
    Turing lies with men,
    Therefore machines do not think."

    So it seems that Turing maintained a sense of humour about the way he was being treated and the effect it would have on his legacy. If the infamous pirate Blackbeard amongst other criminals have received pardons why not Turing? More info about Turing and geek stuff here

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