Queen Elizabeth II

Earlier this week, the United Kingdom’s Queen Elizabeth II posthumously pardoned Alan Turing. Turing, a mathematician and early computer scientist, is perhaps best known for two contributions. He proposed what has come to be called the “Turing Test” in artificial intelligence theory, used to test a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior indistinguishable from that of a human. Turing also spearheaded the cryptography team at Bletchley Park in England that cracked the Nazi’s Enigma Code. His work contributed mightily to the Allies’ eventual victory in World War II.

Turing, one of the best minds of his generation or most others, was also openly gay. He was convicted of the crime of “gross indecency” in 1952, for admitting to a consensual sexual relationship with another adult man. With the conviction, the British authorities rescinded Turing’s security clearance and subjected him to ongoing monitoring, fearing that his homosexuality increased the risk of blackmail by the Soviets and enemies of the Crown. They also offered Turing a deal: he could avoid prison for his crime if he agreed to hormone treatments that would severely lower his testosterone levels, effectively eliminating his sex drive and rendering him impotent. Alan Turing chose chemical castration, answering one of the worst “which would you rather?” questions most men of any sexual orientation can imagine. Two years later, in 1954, Turing’s housekeeper found him dead, after he apparently ate a cyanide-laced apple. British authorities ruled his death a suicide.

Turing was prosecuted under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, commonly referred to as the Labouchere Amendment, which provided that “[a]ny male person who, in public or private, commits [ . . . ] any act of gross indecency with an other male person [ . . . ] shall be liable at the discretion of the Court to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years, with or without hard labour.” Convictions under the Labouchere Amendment carried sentences much lighter than for the UK’s actual sodomy law — death until 1861, then life imprisonment in later years — but were much easier to obtain in practice. The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 partially repealed the Labouchere Amendment, though some of the provisions remained officially in place until the passage of the Sexual Offences Act of 2003.

Turing’s pardon this week arrived after a public campaign seeking redress for the maligned genius, whose cause was bolstered by the high-profile support of physicist Stephen Hawking and other public intellectuals. A pardon, while ostensibly a recognition of the good deeds of a man whose mind was largely responsible for saving the free world as we know it, seems to me altogether the wrong thing….

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For all of the unnecessary pomp and circumstance associated with the British monarchy, we sure are obsessed with it in America. Perhaps it’s because their gorgeous young royals are great at generating headlines, whether reputable or repugnant. First, there was the royal wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton, an eleventy-billion-hour extravaganza of elegance that our eyes were glued to for what seemed like all eternity. The family quickly dropped nobility’s veil, and just one year later, Prince Harry’s crown jewels and Duchess Catherine’s breasts were put on display in gossip rags for all the world to see. After recovering from tabloid infamy, we are now eagerly awaiting the birth of the royal baby, which is a very, very big deal.

The young royal couple does not yet know the sex of their child, and Duchess Catherine, who wanted to have a natural birth, has been in labor for more than 11 hours. At this point, she’s likely desperate to greet His or Her Royal Highness. Typically, British royalty would be crossing their fingers for a male heir to the throne, but thanks to the Succession to the Crown Act, all of that is going to change…

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This is a historic moment that will resonate in many people’s lives. I am proud that we have made it happen, and I look forward to the first same sex wedding by next summer.

– British Minister on Culture, Women, and Equalities Maria Miller, issuing a statement on the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in England and Wales. The bill was formalized as soon as Queen Elizabeth II gave her royal assent to it.


Ed. note This is the second in a series of posts that Alex Aldridge, a London-based journalist who covers legal affairs, will be writing for Above the Law about the upcoming royal wedding of HRH Prince William and Kate Middleton. You can read the first post here.

In Britain, middle-class people who don’t know what to do with their lives have the option of trying to wed a royal.

If that doesn’t work, the situation is much the same as in the US: they become lawyers. A case in point is Prince Harry’s on-and-off girlfriend, Chelsy Davy, who will begin a traineeship with “Magic Circle” law firm Allen & Overy in September, having failed to secure the ginger hell-raiser on a permanent basis. Had Kate Middleton’s 2007 split with Prince William proved final, our future queen — whose ex is an in-house lawyer — may well have gone down the same route.

Needless to say, royals don’t do law. It’s too aspirational. They don’t even sue; one lawyer who has had dealings with The Firm once told me (in jest, possibly): “The royal family don’t take people to court, they kill them.”

Perhaps this explains why they’re so keen on the military: Wills and Harry have followed family tradition by going into the air force and army, respectively. They probably won’t stick around long, though. Like Princes Charles and Andrew before them, the pair will soon be eased into a middle age of government handouts and state-provided housing. Royals, bless ‘em, are basically very rich poor people.

So is a union between a very rich poor person and a member of the middle class likely to work?

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