The Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986 decriminalised consensual sex between men from the ages of 16 years and over, however, convictions for those offences have remained on record and can appear in all criminal history checks.
Justice Minister Amy Adams has said that she “acknowledged the pain” that the affected New Zealanders had lived with, and hoped that the new scheme would be a step in the right direction towards addressing it. She says, “although we can never fully undo the impact on the lives of those affected, this new scheme will provide a pathway for their convictions to be expunged. It means people will be treated as if they had never been convicted, and removes the ongoing stigma and prejudice that can arise from convictions for homosexual offences.”
In 2016, the government ruled a pardon for all men who were convicted of homosexuality before 1986 and said in the future they might consider doing the same for those who had individual cases.
The scheme included all New Zealanders who did in fact hold a conviction for specific sexual offence to have the opportunity to apply to the Secretary of Justice in hopes to have the conviction wiped. If the application was successful, the pre-existing conviction would not be able to be seen in any criminal history checks conducted by future employers or others alike.
We spoke to Body Positive chairman Bruce Kilmister who says it is “fantastic news”. He continues, “I think we can all agree it is long overdue! I do doubt sincerely though that it is a blanket squashing”. In regards to this, Adams states, “as there may be instances where the offending involved conduct that is still unlawful today, we can’t apply a broad brush approach to wiping convictions. The scheme will involve a case-by-case approach.” Kilmister says he understands this is the case as many of the convictions will be mixed up with other crimes too.
“The reality is that two 16-year-old men convicted of a crime just for loving one another can now have that conviction removed.”
Paul Foster-Bell also commented on the announcement, saying, “I grew up in a time when our LGBT+ community was actively persecuted in this country. So I applaud this very practical step which will help a number of gay New Zealanders who suffered criminalisation because of their sexuality.”
As the National Party’s representative on the Cross-Party Rainbow Group, Mr Foster-Bell was a very vocal critic towards Brian Tamaki’s homophobic comments that were made in late 2016.
“For younger members of today’s rainbow community, being treated like a criminal just because of your sexuality is almost unimaginable. But that was the reality people faced prior to 1986. It is a very positive development that this Government is taking this complex issue seriously”
The government will introduce legislation to implement the scheme in the coming months.