The UK's 'Obscene Porn' Rules Have Just Been Relaxed

By Tom Pritchard on at

Whenever you hear about the government and porn in the same news story it tends to be the powers that be trying to limit access, or criminalising something that people would argue isn't all that bad. Well today is not that day, because the Crown Prosecution Service has announced it's relaxing its rules on what classifies as 'obscene' (read: illegal) porn.

Under the Obscene Publications Act, it's an offence to own or distribute certain types of material - including various things you might see in porn. Originally there was a set list of things that were classified as obscene, including illegal acts like bestiality and others that people argued were not harmful when carried out by consenting adults. Things like S&M and bondage.

The changes came about following a public consultation, and a spokesperson said:

 "It is not for the CPS to decide what is considered good taste or objectionable.

We do not propose to bring charges based on material that depicts consensual and legal activity between adults, where no serious harm is caused and the likely audience is over the age of 18."

The CPS admits that the definition of 'obscene' is open to interpretation, so the hard list of what is and isn't illegal has been replaced. Instead the CPS has published new guidance and has a series of tests that will help determine whether images and videos should be considered 'obscene' or not.

While the CPS has said it will "continue to robustly apply the law to anything which crosses the line into criminal conduct and serious harm", the new guidance says people are unlikely to be prosecuted if:

  • It is consensual (focusing on full and freely exercised consent, and also where the provision of consent is made clear where such consent may not be easily determined from the material itself)
  • No serious harm is caused (whether physical or other)
  • It is not otherwise inextricably linked with other criminality
  • The likely audience is not under 18

Porn regulation, which is handled by the BBFC, is likely to change as a result of this. Speaking to BBC News, a BBFC spokesperson said:

"Because the Obscene Publications Act does not define what types of material are likely to be considered obscene, we rely upon guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) as to what classes of material they consider likely to be suitable for prosecution.

"We are aware that the CPS have updated their guidance on Obscene Publications today and we have now adjusted our own internal policies to reflect that revised guidance."

[BBC News]