Skip to main content

Those wronged by pre-2000 LGBT+ laws in the Armed Forces may soon have a right to compensation

In December, the Government provided its formal response to the LGBT Independent Review. This was against a background of centuries of English statutes which made it a criminal offence to be homosexual.

Prior to 2000, service personnel faced grounds for discharge from the Armed Forces, if decisions were made about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This stemmed from three draconian statutes from the 1950s, which affected the three services and made it an offence to commit any homosexual act whilst serving.

Despite the introduction of the Sexual Offences Act 1967, which theoretically overturned the law and made it permissible for two consenting adults over the age of 21 to participate in private homosexual acts, the Act didn't apply to Armed Forces. Instead it was “government policy” that homosexuality was incompatible with service in the Forces.

Although the statistics remain unknown, it's understood that numerous personnel were prosecuted under military law, and even more were discharged. 

Government's Armed Forces policy finally amended following European Court of Human Rights legal challenge

In 1996, veterans who had been discharged due to their sexuality issued proceedings at the European Court of Human Rights, where these decisions by the Ministry of Defence were found to be in contravention of Article 8 - the right to respect an individual’s private/and family life. 

After these judgments, government policy was finally amended to enable service personnel to serve regardless of their sexuality. 

Following Rishi Sunak’s formal apology on behalf of the UK Government for the treatment of LGBT veterans in July 2023, steps were taken by the Government to recognise those veterans impacted by this, with the aim of providing compensation. 

Ben Wallace MP, the Defence Secretary at the time, promised a formal debate after the summer 2023. 

Disappointingly, this debate never occurred as highlighted by the powerful open letter from Fighting With Pride. The Government undertook a written review instead.  

Government to focus on 12 recommendations

This year, the Government has announced plans to focus on 12 recommendations made by Lord Etherton, who was appointed as the chair of the independent review.

These include restoring an individual’s rank where there was a demotion or dismissal pursuant to the ban, making a compensation award (notwithstanding the expiry of litigation time limits) and further research into the severity and long-term consequences of the ban on female veterans.

LGBT veteran can now apply for restorative measures

The compensation scheme is still in the early stages of development, but those affected by the ban have been advised to complete an Application and Registration form for non-financial restorative measures on the government website. 

In addition to this, other remedies open to veterans impacted include: 

  • Medals that were required to be handed back on dismissal or discharge should be restored.
  • The Armed Forces Veterans Badge should be given.
  • The wearing of uniforms by LGBT veterans should be reinstated. 

For those that were subjected to years of isolation and shame, it seems that the long-term effects of this on what is ultimately an ageing generation of veterans, is still not known. There has been a recommendation for an overall £50 million cap upon financial rewards, but the Government still doesn't have any grasp or knowledge of how many veterans have been affected by the ban. 

No indication has been given as to how awards will be assessed and whether consideration should be given for any long-term issues that these veterans might be experiencing, such as mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

Veterans may also find themselves at a disadvantage when dealing with the disclosure of documents held by the Ministry of Defence, particularly as these findings or discharges occurred before GDPR legislation came into force. 


It's hoped that the Government will honour its original commitment and permit a full, public debate in Parliament and that those impacted by these laws will have the opportunity to share their stories and ensure accountability in this forum. 

It's positive that veterans can now seek other forms of redress to have their ranks reinstated and awards restored.  However, in terms of the reparation scheme, it's too early to say whether it will fairly compensate individuals. Therefore, a public debate allowing submissions to be made on how the compensation scheme will be designed, is required. 

Find out more about our expertise in supporting members of the Armed Forces at our dedicated military claims section