Homosexual convictions in New Zealand can be wiped under law Parliament set to pass
Men convicted of once illegal homosexual offences can apply to have the offence stricken from the public record and will receive an apology, but no compensation
By Audrey Young
New Zealand’ parliament will unanimously pass a law allowing the convictions of men for homosexual offences to be expunged from the public record.
Such men are also likely to receive an apology for a second time but there will be no compensation.
Applications for expungement may be made by the men themselves or by a representative, including a family member, if the person with convictions has died.
Several MPs have made personal speeches during the course of the legislation about relatives, including Green MP Marama Davidson and Labour MP Kiritapu Allan.
Among the more personal speeches was one by Grant Robertson, the gay Finance Minister, who said the illegality of homosexuality, the arrests and the imprisonments and the fear of that happening did not only ruin lives and destroy potential.
“It killed people,” he said. “Hundreds or possibly thousands of lives have been lost because men could not bear the shame, the stigma, and the hurt caused by this Parliament and the way that society viewed them as criminals.”
Robertson also addressed the gay men who were not convicted but still lived through it “in the face of discrimination, in the fact of hate … we also owe all of you an apology.”
Similar moves for expungement have already been made in England, Wales and some Australian states and there were calls for it in 2016 to mark 30 years since the decriminalisation of homosexual acts.
A young IT developer, Wiremu Demchick, aged 26, petitioned Parliament in 2016 as well gathering 2111 signatures for an apology and expungement.
Demchick welcomed the final step and while expungement was being publicly discussed when he started his petition, he wanted it to become a priority for the Government.
The Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill was introduced last year by former Justice Minister Amy Adams and at the same time Parliament unanimously supported an apology from the House.
The apology said: “That this House apologise to those homosexual New Zealanders who were convicted for consensual adult activity, and recognise the tremendous hurt and suffering those men and their families have gone through, and the continued effects the convictions have had on them.”
Justice Minister Andrew Little took over the bill and suggested during the committee stages last week that another apology will be forthcoming in tonight’s third reading.
The Secretary of Justice will receive each application and decide whether it meets the test – the test being that the conduct that constituted the offence would not be an offence today.
The effect would be that if the person was required to provide a criminal history for, say, employment, the conviction would not have to be declared. It would be as though there had never been a conviction.
However it may still have to be declared in other countries, depending on the question asked. If the question was whether the person had been arrested, they would have to answer yes.
It will also be an offence for an official to knowingly disclose that there had been a conviction.
An expunged conviction cannot be considered when making safety checks under the Vulnerable Children Act for people involved in regular contact with children. And an expunged conviction or non-disclosure on one cannot be grounds to refuse to register someone as a teacher.
Homosexual acts between consenting males aged 16 and over was decriminalised in 1986 and Statistics New Zealand records show that between then and 1965, nearly 1000 men were convicted of indecency.
Of those, 138 received a prison sentence and the others were fined or given community-based sentences.
But those eligible for expungement are convictions between 1908 and 1986 which meet the test.
An expungement – getting rid of a conviction for conduct which was criminal at the time - is not to be confused with a pardon which, under New Zealand law, means finding that the convicted person never committed the conduct.
Little told Parliament last week that the Government was not considering a compensation regime because it was “too problematic and too complex to contemplate”.
“The difficulty with compensation is that there will be different circumstances for different people that might call for varying levels of compensation and that then makes it very complex and very complicated.
“It would be equally unfair to say ‘right, everybody gets the same amount.’”