A former human rights lawyer says Australia should erase criminal convictions for past acts of consensual homosexual sex from the record books.
In 1997 Tasmania became the last state to decriminalise sodomy – 22 years after the lead was set by South Australia.
Yet while homosexual sex is no longer a crime, rights activists say “thousands” of criminal convictions are still standing.
Dr Paula Gerber, a former lawyer and an expert in human rights law from Monash University, says states and territories must act to expunge those convictions.
“This sort of conduct should never have been criminalised. All the records, all the convictions, should just be expunged,” she said.
“The legacy of those laws still haunts many men as they continue to carry the stigma of a criminal conviction.”
Jamie Gardiner, a rights activist and the vice-president of Liberty Victoria, says it is a matter of righting a historical wrong.
“The state has a chance to say ‘You were mistreated. We can’t heal the wounds, but at least can admit publicly that it was wrong,’” he said.
He says many men were jailed as a result of their convictions, and now might not be able apply for jobs or volunteer positions that require a police check.
”If you are told you have to sign a statement that says you have never been convicted of anything on pain of perjury what do you do?” he said.
Dr Gerber says in many cases, the criminal records cause more than just practical problems.
“There are mental health issues like depression. There is a negative impact on self-esteem because you have a criminal record for simply making love to the person you chose to,” she said.
Mr Gardiner says the bulk of the convictions occurred before the late 1970s, when police attitudes towards homosexuality began to soften.
He says it is difficult to give an accurate figure on the number of convictions but estimates it to be in the “thousands”.
”These laws ruin many people lives and cast a shadow over everyone else’s.
”For those who lived through that era it still does”.Jamie Gardiner
Mr Gardiner says although the number of convictions recorded is relatively small, they still have a wide impact in the gay community.
”Terrible things happened to a smallish number of people but that was enough to keep everyone terrified,” he said.
”These laws ruin many people lives and cast a shadow over everyone else’s. ‘For those who lived through that era it still does”.
Recent legislation in the United Kingdom allows people to apply to have similar convictions deleted, and Dr Gerber says Australia should follow that lead.
“No Australian state or territory has gone down the same path as the UK and passed legislation that explicitly addresses the removal of criminal convictions for consensual homosexual conduct,” she said.
She says most jurisdictions in Australia have “spent convictions” legislation, meaning minor criminal offences committed more than 10 years ago will not show up on criminal police checks.
But she says in Victoria, it remains uncertain if offences for consensual homosexual acts will be included in criminal record checks.
“The rules about what is to be included in a police record check are part of police policy, rather than legislation, there is much discretion in the hands of the police as to what is, or is not, included in a criminal record check,” she said.
Victoria Police says it will not release details of a conviction if 10 years has elapsed, but notes this is subject to exceptions.
One of those exceptions is for sexual offences, if the record check is for the purposes working with children.
Mr Gardiner says some of the homosexual sex convictions fall into this category.
Source: ABC News