Historic gay convictions: Is quashing enough?

This year, the Government will introduce a Bill to expunge historical convictions for homosexual offences.

It's a move welcomed by the gay community, but some have questioned the scheme's failure to provide compensation for the men affected.

Justice Minister Amy Adams says that's because there's no suggestion the convictions were wrongfully imposed under the law as it was then.

"We are sorry for the hurt and distress that these men have suffered and their families have lived with," she says.

Convictions each year before the law was changed in the mid-1980s (The Nation)
Convictions each year before the law was changed in the mid-1980s (The Nation)

But does an apology and clean record entirely address the harm inflicted by the indignity of being forced into a dock? The painful conversations with family members and countless job refusals?

Human rights expert Kris Gledhill says no.

"When you have a breach of fundamental rights there is an entitlement to an effective remedy for a breach of those rights," he says. "They have suffered real damage for which there should be compensation."

The Government disagrees.

"It's not the same as where we do pay compensation where someone has been wrongly convicted for an offence they did not commit," says Ms Adams.

"This is a situation where they were convicted as fair as we know correctly under the law at the time, but what we are now saying is that society now views those laws as being bad laws."

In fact, the Government does not recognise any legal obligation to pay anyone anything as a result of a criminal conviction, wrongful or not. So for example, payments to exonerees like Teina Pora are based on a moral acceptance of an injustice committed, not because of a legal binding obligation.

"This is discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, everybody would accept nowadays that is wrong," says Mr Gledhill.

"Well actually, it's been wrong for a very long time and these laws were wrong at the time they had been enforced by the state.

"Frankly, New Zealand should have changed these laws a long time earlier than they did, and people who have suffered as a result of that default, frankly they should be compensated."

If the Government fails to do, Mr Gledhill is keen to help affected men take a case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. 

"The committee could make a recommendation on the basis of a finding that New Zealand law was non-compliant with international human rights standards; it could make a recommendation that the legislation be reviewed and revised in order to provide an effective remedy."

"If someone wants to take a case, we will look at its merits at the time," says Ms Adams.

The Nation / Newshub.