Alan Turing’s “royal pardon” is absurd

James Fisher
2 min readMay 10, 2014


This Christmas Eve, UK Justice Minister Chris Grayling announced that Alan Turing has been given a royal pardon, under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.

Let us remind ourselves of the history. In 1952, Alan Turing had a sexual relationship with a man named Arnold Murray. For this, he was prosecuted for gross indecency. After Turing entered a guilty plea, the plaintiff, the current Queen Elizabeth II, sought and secured his lenient punishment: regular injections of synthetic estrogen, tantamount to a ‘chemical castration.’ The conviction destroyed his career, and the castration destroyed his body, and two years later he committed suicide.

Wikipedia defines a ‘pardon’ as “the forgiveness of a crime and the cancellation of the relevant penalty.” Neither act is appropriate here: the penalty cannot be canceled, and one cannot forgive someone who has done nothing wrong. Back in 2009, then-PM Gordon Brown issued Turing a formal apology. A hero followed by conviction followed by an apology followed by a forgiveness: talk about flip-flopping.

Both the apology and the pardon apply only to Turing. Notice that Arnold Murray, the other defendant in the same case, has been given no such pardon, nor even mentioned. Perhaps this is because Murray escaped conviction — or perhaps it’s because Turing is above the law.

"Royal pardons" are a relic of pre-modern monarchism, and they should serve no place in what is supposed to be a democracy under the rule of law. The idea that the state can apologize for something is a false anthropomorphization. States are not people, and they have no morals or feelings. If there's to be an apology, it should be from the people that were directly involved in forcibly castrating him.