Second Reading

Backlash briefing to MP’s

Second Reading 23 July 2007

This briefing addresses the proposed legislation on “extreme” pornography, and draws attention to some of the unintended and undesirable consequences of the proposals as currently drafted.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND IMMIGRATION BILL 2007

Part 6 Possession of extreme pornographic images

Violent and abusive behaviour (such as assault, rape, murder and necrophilia) is always indefensible. It should be unreservedly condemned.

However, this overly broad proposal will impede efforts to curb real acts of abuse, by wasting law enforcement and criminal justice resources on non-abusive activities involving consenting adults.

Those criminalised will include people who have not harmed or abused another person, and do not possess material in which anybody was harmed or abused. It should be amended to focus exclusively on genuine abuse.

The main issues are as follows:

In terms of law enforcement, the breadth of the proposal is likely to result in:

  • a diversion of police resources from serious offences (such as real violence and paedophilia) to non-abusive activities involving consenting adults;
  • more overcrowded prisons and increased burden on probation services;
  • a larger number of investigations that do not subsequently result in a conviction – which nevertheless ruin lives of innocent people during the process.

How should the proposal be amended?

It should target only material which involves real cases of abuse and non-consenting participants, and it should exclude material featuring consenting participants in staged and non-abusive productions.

Viewing any such material should be made inadmissible as a defence or mitigating factor in trials of those who have engaged in real, non-consensual abuse or violence.

This broad proposal will potentially affect – and thus criminalise – a much larger number of people than intended: hundreds of thousands, if not millions, who currently engage in non-abusive, consenting sexual activities in the UK. It appears likely to particularly affect the Lesbian, Gay & Bisexual community.

Other issues to be borne in mind include:

The proposal will hamper efforts by responsible organisations to educate people about safe, sane and consensual BDSM* practices. This could result in real harm, i.e. people being injured or dying through accidents.

Some will doubtless find such material abhorrent or offensive. However, sending people to prison on grounds of taste is not consistent with the values of a free and fair society.

Including people who look at or engage in non-abusive, consenting activities on the Sex Offenders Register will dilute its effectiveness.
The definition of “extreme” pornography is vague and therefore can only be determined once brought to trial. So people will not know if they breaking the law at the point at which they view material. This makes for unclear law – and therefore bad law.

The evidence to date does not support the conclusion that such material encourages violent behaviour, as the Government itself has noted. In fact, there is evidence that access to pornography leads to falls in levels of violent behaviour.

Nor has the Government shown that participants in such productions (i.e. adults) have been coerced or harmed. No genuine “snuff” film has yet been discovered, let alone posted on the web.

The breadth of the proposal will make illegal the possession of a wide range of currently legally-published material, criminalising large numbers of people who have bought such material legally.

The Government admits the proposal breaches Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Its justifications are unlikely to meet the Convention’s requirements for such interference. Adequate laws already exist to prosecute those who engage in activities involving real abuse and harm.

Given that the evidence does not support the conclusion that this material causes harm, the proposal seems to contradict Tony Blair’s statement in September 2006 that, “it is not for the State to tell people they cannot choose a different lifestyle, for example in issues to do with sexuality”.

* BDSM is short for: bondage & discipline, domination & submission, sadism & masochism.

© Copyleft Backlash 2007
Issued 11 July 2003

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  • Backlash is an umbrella organisation providing academic, legal and campaigning resources defending freedom of sexual expression. We support the rights of adults to participate in all consensual sexual activities and to watch, read and create any fictional interpretation of such in any media.