Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008
|Sex and the law|
(May vary according to jurisdiction)
Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 is a law in the United Kingdom criminalising possession of what it refers to as "extreme pornographic images". The law was enacted from 26 January 2009. It refers to pornography (defined as an image "of such a nature that it must reasonably be assumed to have been produced solely or principally for the purpose of sexual arousal") which is "grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character" and portrays "in an explicit and realistic way" any of the following:
- An act threatening a person's life
- An act which results (or is likely to result) in serious injury to a person's anus, breasts or genitals
- An act which involves (or appears to involve) sexual interference with a human corpse
- A person performing (or appearing to perform) an act of intercourse (or oral sex) with an animal (whether dead or alive)
and a reasonable person looking at the image would think that any such person (or animal) was real.
The term covers staged acts, and applies whether or not the participants consent. Classified works are exempt, but an extract from a classified work (if the image was extracted for the purpose of sexual arousal) would not be exempt. Whether an image is "pornographic" or not is up to the magistrate (or jury) to determine by looking at the image; it is not a question of the intentions of those who produced the image.
If an image is held in a person's possession as part of a series of images, the question of whether it is pornographic is also determined by the context in which it appears. Therefore an image might be legal in some contexts but not others. Serious injury is not defined by the act, but is up to the magistrate or jury. Guidance on the bill gives examples of activity which would be covered: depictions of hanging, suffocation, or sexual assault involving a threat with a weapon; the insertion of sharp objects into (or the mutilation of) breasts or genitals.
The definition of "obscene" is not the same as that used in the Obscene Publications Acts, which requires that an image "deprave and corrupt" those likely to view it; instead, this is the ordinary dictionary definition of "obscene". "Grossly offensive" and "disgusting" are given as examples of "obscene".
As was demonstrated by a court decision in 2014, it is not necessary to prove that those in possession of offending images had solicited them. Thus it is possible to contravene the law as a result of involuntarily receiving such images.
There is a defence if the defendant can prove that they "directly participated" in the act and the other participants also consented, but only if the acts are those which can be legally consented to in the UK. This defence is not available to the photographer or other "onlookers" who were present, but did not directly participate.
Where the first two clauses above apply, the maximum sentence is three years; otherwise, the maximum is two years. Adults sentenced to at least two years will be placed on the Violent and Sex Offender Register.
After Graham Coutts' conviction in February 2004, the government and police forces called for "violent" adult pornography sites to be shut down and Jane Longhurst's mother and sister launched a campaign against such sites. A petition (which gained 50,000 signatures) promoted by MP Martin Salter was submitted to the government, demanding a ban of "extreme internet sites promoting violence against women in the name of sexual gratification". The government was unsuccessful in shutting down such sites, since they are based in other countries and are legally made with consenting adults. In August 2005 the British government consulted on, instead, criminalising the possession of such images.
On 30 August 2006 the government published the results of the consultation, and announced its intention to introduce a possession ban on all extreme pornography as soon as the legislative timetable allowed. Opinions on the proposals were sharply divided in the consultation, with 61 percent (241 out of 397) of responses rejecting the need for stronger laws in this area and 36 percent in favour (3 percent gave no opinion). The proposed maximum penalty for possession of these images was three years' imprisonment.
On 26 June 2007, the government published the plans as part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. The bill extended the scope of the proposals from "serious, disabling injury" to "serious injury". The law came into force on 26 January 2009. In July 2009, Baroness O'Cathain proposed an amendment to the Coroners and Justice Act which would bring in an equivalent law for "extreme pornographic writings".
There have been many more prosecutions under the law than the 30 cases a year originally predicted by Ministers. In 2011-12, there were 1337 prosecutions and in 2012-13 there were 1348. This has raised concerns that the legislation may be being used for prosecutions beyond the scope originally envisaged by parliament. Prosecutors are said to be unsure of the meaning of the law due to a lack of guidance explaining those categories that are difficult to define. The House of Lords was promised by the government just prior to the enactment of the legislation that such guidance would be issued, but this did not happen.
- A 20-year-old St Helens man was prosecuted on 10 February 2009 for having "extreme" images involving women and animals. The images were reported by a PC repair shop. He was given an 18-month supervision order, 24 hours at an attendance centre and had to pay costs of £65.
- As of June 2009 The Register claimed that according to their sources in law enforcement, there have been two or three prosecutions against people selling Chinese pirated DVDs (which include some bestiality DVDs). A later case in 2010 also involved the use against someone selling pirated DVDs. In January 2011, a South African national living in Berkshire was sentenced to 12 months in prison (followed by deportation) for having downloaded 261 videos of people having sex with dogs, pigs, horses and donkeys. He also received additional concurrent sentences of two months and one month for four images of children which he had also downloaded, allegedly inadvertently.
- On 31 December 2009, a man was found not guilty under the law; he was cleared by a judge, after the prosecution offered no evidence against him. The film he was charged with possessing depicted a sexual act with a tiger, but it emerged that the tiger in the film was not real and the image was a joke. Police and prosecutors admitted that they had not watched the film with sound turned on. In March 2010, the same man pleaded guilty on a second charge for a six-second video clip involving humans, having been told by his legal aid defence team that this was his only chance to avoid prison. However, when a judge told him to prepare for a custodial sentence he changed his plea to not guilty, having taken advice from the pressure group Backlash. A new trial was arranged, but the prosecution chose to withdraw charges before it could begin. In 2014 a judicial review of the law by the Crown Prosecution Service was requested under the Human Rights Act 1998. It was argued that the legislation lacks adequately clear definitions, there is insufficient prosecution guidance from the DPP, and that the offence is disproportionate to the legislation's intended aims.
- The law has been used against people possessing only images of human adults (as opposed to the animal clauses), who have pled guilty.
- In February 2014 three police officers from the Diplomatic Protection Group were arrested on suspicion of sharing "extreme" pornographic images using mobile phones.
2011 test case
In January 2011, a man was tried before Stafford Crown Court for possession of staged images depicting a knife attack and a drowning in a bath. The prosecution said, "There is a need to regulate images portraying sexual violence, to safeguard the decency of society and for the protection of women". Expert witness for the defence Feona Attwood said the images were like stills from a 1970s Hammer horror film. The trial was a landmark, possibly the first such case tested by a jury. It was also notable as a case where the defendant admitted that he intentionally downloaded and retained the images in question (as opposed to, for example, accidental downloading). On 6 January, the jury took 90 minutes to return a unanimous verdict of not guilty. The judge told them afterwards that this trial had been a test case; the legislation in question was still being interpreted.
2012 test case
In August 2012, Simon Walsh, a former aide to London mayor Boris Johnson, was charged with possessing five images of "extreme pornography", which were not found by police on his computers, but as email attachments on a Hotmail server account. He was found not guilty on all counts. Three images were of urethral sounding, and two of anal fisting. The images were all of consensual adult sexual activity.
In 2004 a committee of members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) backed a law to ban adult pornography, as the Equal Opportunities Committee supported a petition claiming links between pornography and sexual crimes and violence against women and children. A spokeswoman said, "While we have no plans to legislate we will, of course, continue to monitor the situation." In 2007, MSPs looked again at criminalising adult pornography in response to a call from Scottish Women Against Pornography for pornography to be classified as a hate crime against women. This was opposed by Feminists Against Censorship.
In September 2008, Scotland announced its own plans to criminalise possession of "extreme" pornography—extending the law further, including depictions of rape imagery and other non-consensual penetrative sexual activity (whether or not the participants actually consented). The new law is included in Section 42 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, and covers images which realistically depict:
- An act which takes (or threatens) a person's life
- An act which results (or is likely to result) in a person's severe injury
- Rape or other non-consensual penetrative sexual activity
- Sexual activity involving (directly or indirectly) a human corpse
- An act which involves sexual activity between a person and an animal (or an animal carcass)
Again, the law covers images of staged acts so long as a reasonable person looking at the image would think it was real or shows harm, and applies whether or not the participants consented.
The government consultation stated that "the material may often cause serious physical and other harm to those involved in making it; in some cases the participants are clearly the victims of criminal offences". The consultation did not attempt to estimate the frequency of these events, and there is no evidence that such content is being distributed at all. The law would cover images (whether or not the participants consented), and would include not only images where extreme violence is taking place but also fictitious images (where people are role-playing such violence).
Material is considered extreme pornography only if the main purpose of creating it was to produce sexual arousal. This rules out most mainstream films, documentaries, war footage or instructional videos (regardless of content), although these would be included if images were extracted from them for the purpose of sexual arousal. Textual material or cartoon depictions are also excluded, regardless of theme or detail.
The consultation stated "it is possible that such material may encourage or reinforce interest in violent and aberrant sexual activity to the detriment of society as a whole", but that they do not have "sufficient evidence from which to draw any definite conclusions as to the likely long term impact of this kind of material"; there was an "absence of conclusive research results as to its possible negative effects".
The consultation cited the case of Graham Coutts (who killed Jane Longhurst), suggesting a link between violent pornography and the murder. Coutts had previously accessed websites that offered such pornography (although he had been practicing erotic asphyxia for five years before exposure to such material), and had told psychiatrists in 1991 that he feared his thoughts might lead to criminal behaviour.
The government also wished to criminalise possession of the material, to reduce the risk of children coming into contact with it. The consultation cited a study which reported that "57% of all 9-19 year olds surveyed who use the Internet at least once a week had come into contact with pornography online", but did not distinguish among forms of pornography; the government had no plans to criminalize all pornography for the same reason.
In discussing the 2006 quashing of Coutts' conviction (Jane Longhurst's purported killer), a barrister supporting the Backlash stance observed:
Lord Hutton's judgement points out that Coutts had engaged in breath play sexual games with previous partners years before he started to use internet porn. The Judge commented that if the same Defendant guilty of the same conduct been tried before the same jury, but without the evidence that he used internet porn, the jury would have been very likely to accept that he did not intend to kill. It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Judge thought the evidence that Coutts used porn prejudiced the jury and led to unfounded assumptions about Coutt's intent. What this judgement shows is that the obsession with criminalising the users of porn will further prejudice juries and lead to miscarriages of justice.
In September 2007 the government published a Rapid Evidence Assessment by Catherine Itzin, Ann Taket and Liz Kelly, investigating "the evidence of harm relating to exposure to extreme pornographic material". This was criticised (in a statement signed by over 40 academics) as being "extremely poor, based on contested findings and accumulated results. It is one-sided and simply ignores the considerable research tradition into "extreme" (be they violent or sexually explicit) materials within the UK's Humanities and Social Sciences".
The law has been criticised as probably breaching Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The government acknowledged this, but believes "this is justified as being in accordance with the law, and necessary in a democratic society for the prevention of crime, for the protection of morals and for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others".
The Government has conflated the issue with participants being abused in the production of such images, with Martin Salter claiming the existence of snuff films where women are raped and murdered on camera in Guatemala. However, no such examples of images have been shown to exist and the sites referred to by the government are instead those produced in the UK and US with consenting actors (see "Sites labelled as 'extreme pornography'", below).
The law has been criticised for criminalising images where no crime took place in their creation. In the House of Lords debates Lord Wallace of Tankerness stated, "Having engaged in it consensually would not be a crime, but to have a photograph of it in one's possession would be a crime. That does not seem to me to make sense". The law has also been criticised for covering images of consenting adults—for example, including some forms of BDSM or bondage pornography.
In 2009 the organisation Comic Shop Voice said that the law may result in the banning of certain comic books, such as Watchmen, Batman: The Killing Joke and several collections of manga. They said in a statement: "Because this is a minefield for the law it then falls on the Police to enforce it, and it is their judgement that could lead to a prosecution. We COULD get to a point where the police could legitimately visit your home or workplace, and sanctioned by an un-elected magistrate or judge go through your collection and if they find any comic book that they feel will cause sexual arousal or displays extreme violence then they could arrest you."
In 2010 a group of King's College London students produced a film, Hanging Perverts, debating the perils and moral issues behind the law. It includes interviews with several public and political figures, such as Baroness Sue Miller of the Liberal Democrats, bondage photographer Ben Westwood (son of Vivienne Westwood) and people working in the industry (such as hardcore BDSM pornographic actress Masie Dee).
Sites labelled as "extreme pornography"
In 2004, following Graham Coutts's conviction, an Early Day Motion listed the websites "necrobabes", "deathbyasphyxia" and "hanging bitches" as examples of sites that should be shut down.
Necrobabes is a website hosting images of women pretending to be dead. The site is subtitled "erotic horror for adults". Necrobabes was included as an example of a site which relatives of Jane Longhurst (who was murdered by Graham Coutts) thought should be banned.
Membership in Necrobabes was used as evidence in the murder trial of Patrick Anthony Russo (a musical director at a Texas church), who murdered Diane Holik in 2001. During the subsequent police investigation it was found out that Russo had been a paying subscriber to Necrobabes. Partly because of his Necrobabes membership and other evidence found from his computer (including his browser history and web searches for "asphyx"), Russo was found guilty of strangling Holik and given a life sentence.
The site owners assert, "The material we produce is fanciful, even cartoonish in many regards; there is nothing realistic about it. Our viewers know this. Far from normalising violence, it relegates it squarely into the realm of fantasy." It states that scenes are simulated, and no one is harmed during the making of their photo stories and videos. It claims that contrary to the aforementioned petition, it "do[es] not encourage nor condone real-life violence against others". It states that there is no pornography on the site, and claims that it is exempt from the record-keeping requirements of 18 U.S.C. § 2257 because there are no images of actual, sexually-explicit conduct.
The Early Day Motion referred to Necrobabes as "corrupting", and The Sun referred to sites such as Necrobabes as "sick". The Guardian suggested that the worst still from Hitchcock's Frenzy "is easily the equal of any Necrobabes gore". The site has been covered in US media, which agree that the site is fantasy with consenting models.
Necrobabes was hosted in the United States and was online since 1997. The UK Government attempted (without success) to get US authorities to shut down such sites. Such images are legal in the US, and it has been claimed they would be difficult to ban without violating the First Amendment.
Hangingbitches.com was run by Frans van der Hulst. The site was shut down, but van der Hulst has since opened more sites. The images are produced in the United Kingdom with British models who have been shown alive and unharmed.
|This section requires expansion. (March 2008)|
Backlash launched a campaign in 2005 to challenge the joint UK Home Office and Scottish Executive proposals to criminalize simple possession of material. The Consenting Adult Action Network is a grass-roots network which opposes the law, and has organised protests against the law.
- "Section 63 - Possession of extreme pornographic images". Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. 2008.
- Ozimek, John (26 November 2008). "Government finally names the day for porn ban". The Register. Retrieved 6 December 2008.
- "New offence of possession of extreme pornographic images". Ministry of Justice. 26 November 2008. Retrieved 6 December 2008.
- The Government consultation states "whether or not they notionally or genuinely consent to take part"; and "actual scenes or realistic depictions".
- The Explanatory Notes state the Government's opinion that the participants' consent is not legally valid (see Operation Spanner) and hence not a justification under this new law (803); and states "In the case of images of staged activity , the Government believes that banning possession is justified..." (804).
- "Further information on the new offence of Possession of Extreme Pornographic Images". Ministry of Justice. Archived from the original on 11 May 2009. Retrieved 6 December 2008.
- Ben Yates (13 August 2014). "Criminalised for Receiving "Extreme Porn" via WhatsApp". Sex & Censorship.
- "Blunkett to urge US web porn curb". BBC. 24 February 2004. Retrieved 15 November 2008.
- "MP calls for violent porn ban". BBC. 9 February 2004. Retrieved 15 November 2008.
- "UK police seek web porn crackdown". BBC. 5 February 2004. Retrieved 15 November 2008.
- "Consultation on the possession of extreme pornographic material". Home Office. August 2006. Retrieved 19 November 2008.
- "Amendment text (3 July 2009)". parliament.uk. 3 July 2009. Retrieved 30 November 2009.
- "Tory Lady tries to give bodice-rippers the snip". The Register. 6 July 2009.
- Myles Jackman (2012-08-08). "Extreme porn trial: consensual sex and the state | Myles Jackman | Law | guardian.co.uk". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- Jerry Barnett (20 February 2014). "Letter to MPs on Criminalising "Rape Porn"". Sex & Censorship.
- "St Helens man guilty of animal porn image charges". St Helens Star. 9 June 2009. Retrieved 30 November 2009.
- "Man had "grossly offensive and disgusting" porn images on computer". St Helens Star. 18 June 2009. Retrieved 30 November 2009.
- "PC repair techs police dangerous picture law". The Register. 26 June 2009.
- "Extreme porn law used on beastly Chinese DVD pirates". The Register. 16 June 2009.
- "Hatfield police celebrate first conviction for extreme porn under new laws (From St Albans & Harpenden Review)". Stalbansreview.co.uk. 2010-08-24. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- 'Acts of depravity' found on dad's computer, Reading Post, 26 January 2011
- "Man cleared of porn charge after 'tiger sex' image found to be joke". The Daily Telegraph (London). 31 December 2009. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
- "Man could face prison over six second 'extreme porn' clip". The Register. 22 March 2010.
- "Backlash Press Release: Tiger Porn defendant miscarriage of justice averted". Backlash-uk.org.uk. 2010-05-28. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "Extreme porn charge dropped due to Backlash intervention". Backlash-uk.org.uk. 2010-08-09. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- Myles Jackman (26 October 2014). "Tiger Porn Victim Bites Back". Obscenity Lawyer. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
- Published on Thursday 22 July 2010 11:07 (2010-07-22). "Porn found on phone - Local". Sunderland Echo. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- Magee, Julie (23 August 2010). "Dorset Dentist spared prison over pain porn". Bournemouth Echo. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
- Lewis Smith (8 February 2014). "No 10 police officers arrested on suspicion of sending each other 'extreme pornographic images'". The Independent (London).
- "Man stands trial accused of possessing extreme porn". Thisisstaffordshire.co.uk. 2011-01-05. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "Experts tell jury that alleged 'extreme' porn images were like Hammer horror stills". Thisisstaffordshire.co.uk. 2011-01-06. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "Local news from Stafford and Staffordshire | Man, 47, denies 'fake images' porn charges". Staffordshirenewsletter.co.uk. 2009-08-24. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "Not guilty verdict in 'extreme porn' test case". Thisisstaffordshire.co.uk. 2011-01-07. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "PRESS RELEASE: Schlock Horror! Stafford jury acquits fantasy porn defendant". Backlash-uk.org.uk. 2011-01-07. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- Caroline Davies (8 August 2012). "Former Boris Johnson aide cleared of possession of 'extreme pornography' | UK news | guardian.co.uk". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "MSPs back pornography ban calls", BBC News, 2 November 2004. Retrieved 29 May 2006.
- "MSPs set to take close look at pornography". Edinburgh Evening News (Johnson Press). Retrieved 30 November 2009.
- "Youths 'access extreme websites'". BBC News. 6 February 2007.
- "Revitalising Justice - Proposals To Modernise And Improve The Criminal Justice System". Scottish Government. September 2008. Retrieved 19 November 2008.
- "Scottish Parliament pr0n law faces angry opposition". The Register.
- "Bills - Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Bill (SP Bill 24)". The Scottish Parliament.
- BillAsIntroduced Contents
- "Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010". Legislation.gov.uk. Retrieved 2014-01-16.
- "Musician 'had murderous thoughts'". BBC Online. 15 June 2007.
- backlash "News"[dead link]
- The evidence of harm to adults relating to exposure to extreme pornographic material - Ministry of Justice[dead link]
- Statement to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill Committee backlash
- backlash QC opinion[dead link]
- Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc[dead link]
- House of Commons (2007-06-26). "House of Commons - Explanatory Note". Publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- "Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill: 8 October 2007: House of Commons debates". TheyWorkForYou.com. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- [dead link]
- "Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill: 21 April 2008: House of Lords debates". TheyWorkForYou.com. Retrieved 2013-01-04.
- Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill: 3 March 2008: House of Lords debates (TheyWorkForYou.com)
- Letter From the Chairman - January 2009
- "I am not doing anything wrong". BBC News. 29 April 2008. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
- Swaine, Batman (29 January 2009). "New pornography laws 'could make comic books illegal', say campaigners". Daily Telegraph (London). Retrieved 29 January 2009.
- "Hanging Perverts (2010)". IMDb.com. 2011. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
- Death Becomes Her - Article in Trash City
- "theinquirer.net: Throttling priest had internet murder fantasy". 21 June 2007. Archived from the original on 13 October 2007. Retrieved 26 May 2008.
- "Police Blotter: Necrobabes.com leads to murder conviction". 21 June 2007. Retrieved 26 May 2008.
- McCullagh, Declan. "Police Blotter: Necrobabes.com leads to murder conviction". CNET.com News. Retrieved 30 November 2009.
- "A Word about Censorship". Necrobabes.com. Retrieved 3 November 2009.
- "This site is currently out of service". Necrobabes.com. Retrieved 3 November 2009.
- UK Parliament - Early Day Motions By Details
- Tom Wells (31 August 2006). "Mum wins sick porn sites ban". The Sun.
The musician viewed sites with names like "necrobabes" and "hangingbitches" before using a pair of tights to strangle special needs teacher Jane, of Brighton, East Sussex. He was jailed for murder in 2004 but is appealing.
- Comment is free: See no evil
- SFBG S.F. Life, 15 March, 2000
- Throttling priest had internet murder fantasy - The INQUIRER
- "Police Blotter: Necrobabes.com leads to murder conviction". CNET News. Archived from the original on 11 September 2007.
- C4 News - Home - Anti-terrorism - Blunkett meets Ashcroft
- "US and UK crack down on web porn". The Guardian (London). 9 March 2004. Retrieved 23 May 2010.
- Revealed: The ultra-violent sex movies being made in Milton Keynes| News | This is London
- "Porn protesters hit Westminster". BBC News. 21 October 2008. Retrieved 19 November 2008.
- Deedes, Henry (21 October 2008). "Bondage protest set to spice up the Commons". The Independent (London). Retrieved 19 November 2008.
- House of Commons debate on 6 May 2004
- House of Commons debate on 18 May 2004
- Jane Longhurst Trust
- Backlash and the Consenting Adult Action Network oppose outlawing extreme pornography.
- Summary of responses to the Consultation on the Possession of Extreme Pornographic Material
- Government consultation
- Summers, Chris (4 July 2007). "'Extreme' porn proposals spark row". BBC News.
- wiki collating information and arguments about the proposed law
- Point by point response to the consultation paper by Institute of Ideas Policy Watch
- Summers, Chris (29 April 2008). "When does kinky porn become illegal?". BBC News.
- Hanging Perverts at the Internet Movie Database The 2010 independent film produced about the law
- 'Law, Morality and Disgust', an academic article that considers the scope and application of the law