Lords Debate – March 2008

This is a briefing, from Backlash spokesperson Deborah Hyde to members of the House of Lords who had questioned the Government’s assumptions during debates, which summarises the key arguments at that late stage.

Thank you for your participation in the House of Lord’s discussion about the plans to criminalise the possession of certain types of “pornographic” images on Monday 3 March 2008 and thank you for all your efforts in highlighting the problems with the proposals in their current wording.

This briefing is on behalf of Backlash, an umbrella group set up to oppose plans to criminalise possession of so-called extreme pornography.

From the start we have been concerned that the Ministry of Justice has not had time to understand the possible unintended consequences of the proposals to criminalise the possession of images nor to fully digest the reasons behind the opposition to these plans.

We wish to offer more support and evidence.

As the Government minister Lord Hunt conceded on Monday there is no evidence of need for this law. The government backed REA research into the links between pornography and violence showed positive correlation only in a very small number of people already pre-disposed to violence.

But the REA ommitted to report a number of pieces of research which have shown a negative correlation between access to pornography and levels of violence in Western societies.

Apart from opposition to plans based on the lack of evidence of need for a law, there has been other opposition to the government’s plans based on the fact it is “bad law”.

A number of news organisations have published articles pointing out problems with the assumptions and definitions featured in the consultation and the clauses in Criminal Justice & Immigration Bill.

Justice, Liberty and the JCHR have said they have grave misgivings about the plans.

Amnesty – widely reported to have backed the proposals – has never said it supports a change in the law. Indeed it said it doesn’t know of any causal link between porn and levels of violence.

Nor is there any evidence of widespread support for the planned law.

Lord Hunt knows this, which is why he was careful not to talk about the findings of the public consultation.

The findings were that, not unsurprisingly, anti-porn feminist groups, religious groups and police organisations backed the planned change in the law but the majority of individuals did not.

Even the widely quoted petition only called for a ban on sites “promoting violence against women”.

In the Lords, Baroness Miller asked for information on International law. We know no similar laws in any developed nation.

Australia’s netalert provides a voluntary filtering service that househoulds and public offices can choose to use. New Zealand fines people found guilty of possessing a limited category of material.

Spain, Portugal, Japan, France, Scandinavian countries and the US have no possesion laws and much more liberal laws on publication.

Only Middle Eastern and Far Eastern regimes have more far-reaching laws than the UK’s existing publication laws.

If the governement is unwilling to launch a proper study into the use and effects of porn and honestly only intends to criminalise a tiny minority of people, Backlash hopes changes will be made to ensure individuals who reasonably believed the material they owned featured consenting adults who were not harmed should be exempt from prsecution.

Specific examples would include images:

  • featured in films with BBFC, US 2257 or similar internationally recognised certification
  • pictures of him/herself and or friends and/or partners
  • pictures from social networking sites like youtube, myspace, facebook, horror, alternative lifestyle sites and other websites where the owner reasonably believed the material featured people who consented to be filmed
  • from educational sites
  • from legally trading companies in this country like play.com, amazon, salvation films and licensed sex shops.
  • pictures from magazines, books and websites that are published and distributed legally in this country.

Thank you, once again, for all your efforts to protect the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people in this country who could unintentionally and unwittingly become criminals if these plans go ahead.