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Internet Law – New U.K. Extreme Obscenity Ban Passed

WWW- A new law criminalizing possession of extremely graphic images has been passed in U.K. as part of the latest Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill, and conviction by the statute will be punishable by up to three years in jail, according to the U.K. Ministry of Justice.

The Ministry stated, “Material covered will include necrophilia, bestiality, and violence that is life threatening or likely to result in serious injury.” Under the new law, criminal liability now extends from the producer, who was responsible under the 1959 Obscene Publications Act (OPA), to the consumer.

The law’s change was spearheaded by a person related to a British murder victim. Half a decade ago, Jane Longhurst 31, a teacher from Brighton, England was murdered. When investigators found the killer and studied the crime, it emerged the murderer was compulsively accessing extremely graphic adult-content oriented websites with such names as, “Club Dead,” and “Rape Action,” that specialized in selling images of women being abused and violated.

After the sentencing of Graham Coutts, 39, from Hove, Sussex, who received at least 26 years, Jane’s mother Liz, began working to get the laws changed. Liz’s mother is from Berkshire, and her demand for a change in the law was backed by Reading West MP Martin Salter, as she waged a three-year campaign to ban violent online images and movies.

The Ministry of Justice stated that the law was crucial to battle against easy Internet access and sale of such violent obscene images. The Ministry stated that such material “can be accessed in the UK from abroad via the internet.

Legislating in this area will ensure that the possession of such material is illegal both on and off line. This Government will always seek to close gaps in the law caused by misuse of new technologies, such as the internet, which allow existing controls to be avoided.” The legislation covers real photography and also images not photographed, such as moving images, and files or data able to be converted into pictures.

The new law has an element that makes it more nuanced in terms of focusing on peddlers of the worst and most degrading types of images. The text allows for grading the context of images, and gives the prosecutor and judge discretion in deciding whether an image which might seem to constitute extreme depictions in isolation may not be such in a broader context.

The Ministry of Justice claims that the new law is neither intended to target those who accidentally come into contact with obscene materials; nor target mainstream entertainment products that broadly are legal within current obscenity laws.

Ms Longhurst believes Libertarians have pegged her as “a horrible killjoy,” and these same critics fear non-criminal images consumers who use violent pictures images as part of consensual relationships could easily get swept up in raids. Liz Longhurst disagrees, saying “Sometimes the freedoms of like-minded, decent people have to be curtailed because of a few others. I know some would argue women choose to do this. But I believe a lot of women who have been trafficked are forced to be on these sites.”

But Ms Longhurst believes if the violent porn sites had not been available for Coutts, her daughter might still be living. She said, “It made it seem all right. I think he knew from quite a young age that it wasn’t really all right. But I think he thought: ‘Well, there are all these sites, I’m not the only one and it must be all right really’ and so he just went with the flow.”

MP Salter agreed that the campaign was no “moral crusade” but instead was targeting the “violent end of the market – material that was already illegal but with the advent of the internet was unregulated”.

Salter continued, “This is the combination of a three-year campaign waged by Liz Longhurst and myself, which garnered the support of church groups, women’s organizations, 189 MPs, and generated 50,000 signatures on a national petition.”

The Ministry of Justice said the new law would be enforced by individual police forces who were “already working on protecting the public in this field”. A Ministry spokesman said the number of prosecutions would undoubtedly be quite small.

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