back to article UK gov rejects call to posthumously pardon Alan Turing

The UK government has turned down a call to posthumously pardon Alan Turing. A petition to pardon the war-time codebreaker for a 'gross indecency' conviction attracted more than 23,000 signatures, prompting the tabling of early day motion in the House of Commons last week. Turing was arrested and eventually convicted for …

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@Gordon 10

"Its easy to blame the "ruling classes" isnt it than to admit your parents and grandparents as part of a democratic society have an equal responsibility for the electing of a body that passes or refuses to repeal distasteful legislation."

I'm sorry Gordon but I can't agree with you here. I have actively demonstrated for most of my adult life against unjust laws that this and previous governments have passed or refused to repeal, and I still do. Do I too have to accept responsibility for being part of a democratic society that elected these people even though I never voted for them and did everything in my power short of taking up arms against them to stop just a little bit of their madness? Do you honestly believe that the average man or woman on the street has any say in what laws are passed or repealed?

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@Willington

I thought it was fairly clear that the references to "parents and grandparents" was an impersonal one. If you can point to particular people alive at the time who spoke out against those laws, then obviously they would be absolved of any moral responsibility for them. I'm afraid that still leaves the other 99%.

That other 99%, of course, also explains your perception that the average man or woman in the street has no say. Every single one of them is out-numbered by everyone else. Complicated stuff, democracy.

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@Ken Hagan

It's not that complicated Ken. We have a system where you need money to get elected and as soon as you're elected you are effectively a despotism and do exactly what the hell you like as long as you don't upset big business or the Daily Mail too much. You aren't legally bound to do the things you said you were going to do to get elected and you take money from lobbying groups (who by default are also people with money and are therefore allowed to "lobby" which is somehow different to "bribe") who want laws changed and then make the appropriate changes just like you were paid to.

We call it a democracy but better words to describe what we have would be plutocracy or plutarchy.

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@Willington -- Spot on.

Spot on. Said with great precision.

Why our system of governance continues to exist as it is, is that most don't understand this.

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Anonymous Coward

Why the Brit Empire Collapsed

Well, if you shoot out your brains for idiot reasons, someone else will snatch the lunch from under your slackjawed drooling blank stare...

Modern cases come to mind:

Arabs (and to a lesser extent Indians) wasting half their brain power (females)...

Americans throwing out fully trained and paid for PhDs because they are "aliens"... well, Europe does the same thing...

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Anonymous Coward

Why are we wasting time on something that will have no impact on anything bar the satisfaction it might give to a few campaigners to have got one over of the gub'mint?

The previous Government has said sorry... which is fine, but why does it need to go further? The past is the past, let it go!

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There is a theory that you can learn from the past.

Whether it's not invading Russia in winter or not hiring the best candidate because they are gay/female/muslim/black - it's worth remembering.

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Whats that got to do with it? We aren't going to repeat the same mistake again in this instance - "Oh looks in another Alan Turing, lets persecute him for his sexuality again, it worked the first time!" This is a very tragic instance of old laws and old moral codes that have since been fixed. Should we go back and say sorry to every criminal that was executed since the death penalty has been repealed?

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No, but if I was a security officer at GCHQ and I had a candidate with a conviction for smoking a joint or for hacking his school's computer, or some other criminal act - I might think twice about automatically rejecting them.

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Coat

Did someone forget to tell the executioner?

There shouldn't have been any criminals executed since the death penalty was repealed.

Or are we talking SAS/Gibraltar type operations?

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@Colin Millar

You could read it that way, or you could read it as 'pardon those who were executed prior to the death penalty being abolished'.

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You left one out...

Now if only we could get them to learn from the "no land wars in East Asia" one.

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Coat

Case law dictates

that they follow the Catholic Church's example with Galileo and patch it over in 350 years.

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Rule Britannia!

Britts would probably hang Pyotr Ilyich before he could compose the music, people nowadays cannot celebrate their Christmas without (at least here in the US).

Interestingly, both Russian Emperor and the government could put up with a similar sin of P.I. Tchaikovskiy. The reason was his genius and cultural contribution. Apparently, this was an Asiatic, non-civilized view.

It is a lesson to learn from the civilized British Empire, its democratic and humanistic values: no great and honorable military, scientific contribution would help, even posthumously.

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Anonymous Coward

People in glass houses...

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/one-towns-war-on-gay-teens-20120202

Did you say something about humane, civilised behaviour?

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Anonymous Coward

Giving him a pardon now would be as much use as giving him a free ticket to the first civilian space flight = nothing, he's dead. Better to not attempt to revise history, and let it stand for what it is.

When apologising for acts of our ancestors, I'm always reminded of the student who travelled to Africa to apologise for his families involvement in the slave trade. It never entered his head that the generation of black Africans he was apologising to were the ones who sold their rival tribe members to the slavers in the first place!

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Anonymous Coward

You guys......

Look, Turing doesn't give a shit anymore. He is dead. And this Lord Sharkey is a dumbass. So please, let's try to bash Sharkey more and talk less about the knighthood for Turing. We are here to make fun of the stupid living idiots, not to argue about the brilliant dead minds.

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Anonymous Coward

Sharkey? Don't start me...

It would be wrong of me to say that "Lord" Sharkey appears to be a Johnny-Come-Lately (stop sniggering, that's not what it means) in the Lords, put there for no obvious reason in 2010, so a reward for something he has done, but we can't tell what. I'm sure he's a fine, upstanding etc...

He has also been working tirelessly for Turkey for 45 years, and is one of the clowns trying to get them into the EU, ffs.

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http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/4796579.stm

300 soldiers convicted and executed for "cowardice" in WW1 received a posthumous pardon in 2006, so there's clearly a legal precedent for this.

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The argument in that case was that they were wrongly convicted - because shell-shock/PTSD wasn't recognised at the time. Although that's just political weasling.

The 'correct' thing to do would be to say that; looking back, it was wrong to persecute gays, just as it was wrong to deny women the vote, or to prevent Jewish asylum seekers from Germany in the 30s - or a whole bunch of other stuff. BUT more important would be for the same politicians to consider this the next time they are reacting to a Daily Mail headline.

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Boffin

A Turing test...

... in which the investigator is able to ask a number of questions of a Noble Lord to ascertain if there is any sign of intelligence within.

But seriously, folks, even as a lifelong fan of Turing (it's not just computing - check out what he did for developmental biology) and a strong believer in gay rights, I'm in two minds about this pardon business. I agree with JGC on why he couldn't support the second petition:

http://blog.jgc.org/2011/11/why-im-not-supporting-campaign-for.html

But I think there's also an important semantic difference between a pardon and apology - it seems to me the apology is the stronger response.

A pardon *could* be read as "OK, you *were* guilty of gross indecency, you nasty little sodomite, but because you did all this other cool stuff we'll rather pointlessly let you off". Whereas the apology quite clearly says "OK, we can't undo the past, but we do recognise that the law at the time was abhorrent".

So the pardon *could* still exist in a system in which the law at that time is still considered valid and moral now, and his (supposed) moral guilt for homosexuality is just outweighed by his other gifts to society. The apology is stronger because it unambiguously and entirely transfers any guilt (vicariously) to the government of the time.

Does this make any sense?

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RE: "Does this make any sense?" Yes it certainly does Sandtreader.

A great deal of sense in fact - thank you.

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Anonymous Coward

Plus ca change

The worst thing about the Goverment apology, is that they have done very little to prevent something quite similar happening again. There are still plenty of offences that a modern day Turing could be convicted of and hounded into suicide for. Turing's conviction was not just, but does stand as a reminder of how the State can destroy those who will not conform.

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Anonymous Coward

Is Lord Sharkey a closet American fundamentalist Christian? he talks like one.

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So what...

What the guy should have said was "We can't pardon him because the Gross Indecency laws are useful for quieting the masses and we don't wish to weaken them by giving people the impression they're not an archaic club to crush non-conformist thoughts and ideas"

I am Templeton Beckmarsh (aka Flampton Hoppings) and I approved this message.

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Unhappy

A posthumous pardon proclaims someone innocent after death ...

... unlike a pardon to someone stil alive/serving a sentence which is instead a total commutation of the sentence to "no penalty".

Therefore, I regretfully have to agree that it's inappropriate because Turing was in fact guilty of the barbaric and inexcusable laws in place at the time.

So the government probably have made the right decision to apologise for those laws being in place and acknowledging that he (and thousands of others) should not have been prosecuted.

The only way a pardon could possibly work is if *everyone* ever prosecuted under those laws was pardoned as innocent of a crime - on the basis that the law itself was in some way (constitutionally?) invalid.

That might work - and be very worthwhile campaigning for if it can be stood up - but a single pardon for a single person just doesn't fit into the concept of posthumous pardon in our justice system.

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Anonymous Coward

Pardon everyone

Yes. When a bad and unjust law is repealed, part of that process should be a retrospective pardon for all convicted.

My suspicion is that the noble lords are more concerned about issues of precedence and liability than of justice

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Bah!

A pardon is not a declaration of innocence, it is a forgiving of the crime regardless. If there is no crime, there cannot be a pardon for it. Pardons are sometimes issued in the case of wrongful convictions, but these are a usually legal face-saving maneuver designed to forestall future "second thoughts on the matter", and more to the point are a pardon for the crime that the person was convicted of (possibly wrongfully).

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Then since the crime itself is what we object to ...

... *everyone* convicted of that crime has to be "forgiven".

Turing was a great man but an unjust law is unjust whether it causes the death of such a man or someone (during the war) working in a munitions factory, or serving on board a ship, or flying a bomber.

Some sort of posthumous repeal of law itself is what's needed - if that's even possible. The guy who set up the original petition for an apology himself rejects the idea of a pardon - because that insults every other poor sod who was persecuted under the same barbarism!

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Stop

Point of order, my Noble Lords

That it was my Lord McNally who furnished the response; my Lord Sharkey posited the question.

(can't get Laurie Anderson out of my head though; paging Lord Sharkey, white courtesy telephone please.)

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With regard to soldiers with shell shock - different concept and situation

Those soldiers were tried and convicted for "showing cowardice in the face of the enemy".

When it was shown that they were in fact suffering from mental trauma/PTSD - no cowardice involved - they were found factually innocent of the crime of which they had been convicted and properly pardoned.

In that case the crime itself still stands and in some countries still conceivably carries the death penalty in time of war. It was the convictions that were unsound not the law itself.

In Turing's case we're talking about the law being invalid, not the conviction.

Apples and Oranges.

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Facepalm

To quote the bard

On our foresighted caring Lord Sharkey " Were I like thee I'd throw away myself "

Sure Alan T would agree with that sentiment

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FAIL

House of Schmords...

One of their peers are being investigated for quite a few illegal actions (=A & Title.SubStr(9,3) & cr . . . ), yet they don't think it's OK to admit to the failure of previous governments (including their own peerage passing these laws at the time)? Fair enough to all those crying out about being innocent until proven guilty in the previously mentioned case however Turing's "illegal activities" has been successfully defended as a human right, yet they see fit for the final judgement of imposed imprisonment or chemical castration to stand.

Not that it would make a difference for the man who is long gone and suffered regardless, however it just shows us living individuals how hypocritical, misguided and flawed those red-cloaked toads are.

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Boffin

No case in law, I'm afraid

You can't just grant pardons willy nilly in the UK to the extent that you can in the US.

My understanding of the concept of pardon is that it is applied to situations where the person is somehow "morally innocent" of the crime he was found guilty of (essentially, being guilty... by the letter but not the spirit of the law- given the context of his conviction and the standards of the time, this isn't Turing). This was also used as a way to give plea deals way back when, but probably wouldn't be allowed today.

It's also what's called a "royal perogative" right, i.e. something that is at the monarch's discretion. The scope of the perogative has been cut down over several hundred years by parliamentary sovereignty. To extend the perogative would (in my limited understanding- it's been years since I did constitutional law) almost certainly be unconstitutional. And, unfortunately, pardoning Turing would be such an extension.

That's not to say that there shouldn't be some kind of law which retrospectively annuls all convictions for homosexual conduct (I think there probably should). However, what they were asking for was, strictly speaking, illegal without a new law being made. What Brown gave in 2009 was probably the limit of what you could do without a new law.

More info on the concept of pardon (and how the UK and US systems apply it differently) can be found here in an article by the late great Lord Bingham: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v31/n06/tom-bingham/at-the-white-houses-whim

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What of those alive today convicted of that crime

If the UK is not willing to expunge the record of Alan Turing or other men and women convicted of homosexuality then they are putting those individuals (still alive) at a disadvantage within the work place, which I'm pretty sure goes directly again the government's anti-discrimination policies on the basis of sexual orientation. Those with the conviction will have to state that they have a criminal record to potential employers, even though they were arrested and convicted for simply being themselves. They very act of not pardoning all those convicted under that law is discriminatory let alone not pardoning such an amazing man as Alan Turing.

A good and just government should be able to admit when they were wrong and when they failed the people who they are meant to serve and look out for. The governments failure here at this day and age is a failure to recognize and right the wrongs of the past. Apologies are hollow in the absence of actions to support it.

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Anonymous Coward

Von Neumann and Turing

"These documents are relevant to the question of what von Neumann knew of Turing's work on computability before the Second World War, and so also to the question of how von Neumann could have drawn on Turing's ideas when formulating the EDVAC report in 1945".

http://www.turing.org.uk/sources/vonneumann.html

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Anonymous Coward

House of Lards

It's the 21st century, does any country need a bunch of hereditary lords?

If the common belief is true, many of them are far less than geniuses and some enjoyed a fruity public school lifestyle. I wonder how many voted against homosexuality whilst being exactly that?

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@AC re: House of Lards - A heriditary house?

Probably not, but a second chamber, quite definitely.

But most of the hereditary peers were removed from the house by the last administration. Those peers that remain are selected life peers who have been elevated for their contribution to the country, and society as a whole (or at least that is the aim). As a result, they are supposed to be respected, and as such are given some power to ask the government to reconsider prospective legislation, which is a good idea.

The real problem is that although a second house is a thoroughly good idea, it must be disconnected from the House of Commons by having a completely different selection mechanism. There is no point in making it elected in the same time-scales as the lower house, because it then becomes just a rubber stamp body, reflecting the same issues that were in vogue when the election was held.

I for one feel that a house selected by merit is a suitable system. Maybe there should be a time limit on how long members of the Lords should be allowed to remain, but if the AC actually bothered to watch Lords debates on the BBC Parliament channel, then I think that they would be surprised about how interesting and well informed some of the speeches are. I was particularly impressed by a seemingly old foagy (can't remember who it was, I really should find out) standing up in the Lords during the ID card debates and making one of the most reasoned and interesting 20 minute contributions to the debate that I have ever heard. Changed my perspective completely.

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And the law lords ...

It *used* to be the case that the UK was the only country in Europe, where the second chamber (house of lords) was actually legally trained (because of the presence of the Law Lords, who were all drawn from the judiciary) to review legislation. All other countries second houses are simply politicians again.

Personally, the simplest, cheapest, and most democratic way to select a second house would be to take the person coming second in the constituency election.

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Vic
Silver badge

> does any country need a bunch of hereditary lords?

We need some sort of second chamber to counter the excesses of the first.

The hereditary principle is clearly anathema - but is it really any worse than stuffing the chamber with the appointees of the current PM?

Hereditary peers are clearly wrong. They just appear to be a little less wrong than the alternatives :-(

Vic.

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Anonymous Coward

More fearsome than a tsunami of similar calls...

may be the fear that making new laws retrospective to automatically pardon all those convicted under the old laws, could lead to suits against the state for damages, either by living ex-cons or their surviving family members...

Any legal minds care to enlighten on this point?

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Black Helicopters

The issue here

is that they don't want to pardon all the other convicted male benders*, many of whom are still living with a conviction on their record for a crime that no longer exists. I'm not sure why - are they scared of the cost of compensation claims from people who could never get a decent job after conviction?

*as any fule no, lesbianism was never illegal because, apocryphally, Queen Victoria refused to believe women could do such things.

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fot

OMG

The British government used to chemically castrate homosexuals ?

I always thought Dr. Mengele of Auschwitz concentration camp and Joseph Stalin were the only ones who ever did that kind of stuff. Mugabe maybe.

How did the Irish deal with this British chemical castration habit in the past ?

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Anonymous Coward

> The British government used to chemically castrate homosexuals ?

Convicted homosexuals were sometimes given a choice, as Turing was, between chemical "castration" (female hormone injections) or gaol. In Turing's case he accepted, and later regretted, the chemical option. It wasn't forced on him.

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> How did the Irish deal with this British chemical castration habit in the past ?

?? Given that Ireland didn't decriminalise homosexuality until almost 30 years after the UK "the Irish" wouldn't have been in much of a position to comment.

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FAIL

"It wasn't forced on him"

No, not at all.

Choice one: Clink with the (less than delicate / intellectual) lads of E wing

Choice two: Chemical castration

He probably preferred a third option, leave me the fuck alone.

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Big Brother

It's the law ... for some!

So, Sophie Scholl of the White Rose, the 21 years old student was RIGHTLY guillotined by the Nazis for distributing a leaflet announcing that the ‘day of reckoning’ had arrived for ‘Adolf Hitler, the most contemptible tyrant our people has ever endured’.

She was convicted of treason. It was the law at the time. She pleaded guilty.

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Humbled

Thank you for teaching me something, anyone reading this who doesn't know about Sophie Scholl needs to Wikipedia her ...

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Let's move on

Turing was a great and admirable genius but he committed and got caught for a crime. The fact that most of us judge the law to have been wrong is irrelevant. There are lots of current laws that are stupid but if I choose break one, I face the consequences or do my best not to be found out.

It makes little difference whether a pardon is granted or not, the wrong has been done. Better to concentrate on making todays laws fairer.

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FAIL

So, let me get this right...

From what the government is saying, it would be wrong for the German government to apologize to Jews, Homosexuals and political prisoners from circa 1940.

Well, it was in accordance with the law at the time...

The law is an ass!

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