Kent Police have charged an individual with nine offences under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (OPA) in a case that could potentially see online chat in the UK subjected to a much stricter regulation regime.
A Kent Police spokeswoman confirmed to The Register it had brought the charges against the individual, and that these charges relate to online chat.
The individual is also charged with two offences of making indecent images of children and four of possessing indecent images of children. They have been bailed pending their next court appearance at Dartford magistrates on 6 May.
The implications of this case, if it proceeds, could be legal dynamite. At present, under the Obscene Publications Act (pdf), a publication is obscene if its overall effect is to "tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely ... to read, see or hear" it. For the purposes of the law, publication appears to involve distribution, circulation, selling or giving an article to a third party.
The idea that a conversation – albeit one embodied in text chat – can be considered to be "published" would be fairly radical. The Kent case could ultimately be more significant than last year’s controversial prosecution in respect of Girls (Scream) Aloud.
It may be no coincidence that this case has surfaced in the Kent area.
During consultations on the extreme porn law (pdf), a number of police forces argued that the provisions proposed by government be made more strict. One police force in particular stood out, arguing that the new law should apply not simply to images, but to written material as well.
A Detective Sergeant wrote at the time (p.297): "There remains a legislative gap in terms of written fantasy material specifically about child rape and murder, which is now commonplace. The legislation should include the possession of written or printed material of this nature as it is equally as disturbing as the images and equally contributes to an offender’s motivation and fantasy behaviour."
The force in question was none other than Kent. ®
We have asked both Kent Police and the CPS for further comment on these charges, but they have declined to add anything to the above.