Documents to download

Whilst the Obscene Publications Act 1959 has subsequently been amended, it still makes it a punishable offence to distribute, circulate, sell, hire, lend or give away obscene material. It defines obscene material as that which is likely to “deprave and corrupt” the intended audience when taken as a whole. This includes not only sexually explicit material, but also that relating to violence and drug taking. It has been argued that material which simply shocks or disgusts, however, will not tend to fall under this definition. As a result, prosecutors have tended not to take action against the written word, but rather focus almost entirely on sexually explicit pictorial material, including: photographs; magazines; films; or websites. Although the Act applies to material broadcast on televisions, stricter tests relating to harms and offence are available under the Communications Act 2003 and the Ofcom broadcasting code. 

The Act also includes sections relating to search and seizure and available defences. It creates a power where, in accordance with a warrant, police can seize obscene materials. The Act also offers the defence of ‘public good’. This means that a court would not convict a person if they can justify the publication of the material as being for the public good. For example, that it has scientific, literary or artistic merit. In relation to any film or soundtrack, the individual must justify the material on the grounds that it is in the interests of drama, opera, ballet or any other art, literature or learning. Consequently, prosecutions tend to focus on material which can have little claim to artistic or other merit, where an individual has produced material explicitly to excite the viewer.

Documents to download

Related posts

  • Media Bill: HL Bill 44 of 2023–24

    The Media Bill would update the legislative framework governing broadcasting and radio services across the UK. It would represent the first major update to broadcasting legislation since Parliament passed the Communications Act 2003 more than 20 years ago. Since then technological changes have facilitated a shift to more and more viewers watching television programmes on demand using smart devices and listeners opting to access radio services using devices such as smart speakers.

    Media Bill: HL Bill 44 of 2023–24
  • Poverty in the UK: Government policy

    There were approximately 11 million people in the UK in relative poverty (before housing costs) in 2021/22. Many people on low incomes receive cash benefits, such as universal credit, and other benefits such as free school meals. In its levelling up strategy the government set out measures to address poverty; these include increasing the number of high-paying jobs and improving access to good quality education and skills training.

    Poverty in the UK: Government policy