Updated It seems likely that the government thought that passing a new law on extreme porn would be the last word on the matter. Recent events in Birmingham suggest that this may not quite be the case.
Restrictions on the possession of material deemed to be “extreme” and “pornographic” were introduced in the Criminal Justice Bill in May. A letter from the Ministry of Justice to Backlash, the umbrella group uniting opposition to these measures, suggests that the current plan is for these measures to have their “commencement date” in January 2009.
According to Stephen Ruddell of the Criminal Law Policy Unit, “the time before implementation will give people an opportunity to consider what images they possess. Similar circumstances arose when the age of the child – in respect of possession of indecent photographs of children – was raised from under 16 to under 18 in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This change in the law meant that people had to consider and, if necessary, delete or destroy material which until then had been legal to possess.”
In other words: get it wrong, and face the possibility of jail and a criminal record.
On Sunday 14 June a delegation of people from the Consenting Adult Action Network (C.A.A.N.) went to West Midlands police headquarters in Birmingham to seek advice about just what material might be covered.
A spokesperson for this group explained that they took with them a range of works, representing both fantasy and real acts of harm or danger by various photographers, both professional and amateur. Their portfolio included work by noted erotic artists China Hamilton and Bob Flanagan.
After an initial mix-up with staff at the front desk – who understood the group to be complaining about pornography, rather than seeking advice – officers presented the material to the CID.
Despite praising CAAN for its “mature and adult approach” to seeking advice on this matter, the police were unable to provide much help. They were unaware of imminent changes to the law in this area – despite the fact that West Midlands Police had contributed to the government consultation on this issue, and argued strongly for even tougher sentences than have been passed into law.
They believed that the images did not contravene the Obscene Publications Act. Therefore, if government assurances that the new law criminalised nothing that was not already illegal to publish, those attending the demonstration should be safe.