"“We have lent a huge amount of money to the U.S. Of course we are concerned about the safety of our assets. To be honest, I am definitely a little worried.” "

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao 12th March 2009

""We have a financial system that is run by private shareholders, managed by private institutions, and we'd like to do our best to preserve that system."

Timothy Geithner US Secretary of the Treasury, previously President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.1/3/2009

Friday, May 09, 2008

Possession of extreme pornographic images - now illegal in the UK . Public hysteria hard at work

Yesterday Lord Patel was able, after my Lord Bishop of Norwich Rt Revd Graham James so beautifully intoned the customary Prayers before business, to hear Baroness Hayman, the Lord Speaker announce

"My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act."

This curious Bill has been carried over from the last session and contains a veritable rag-bag of measures from creating new powers to tackle "anti-social and violent behaviour" , changing and (it is claimed) ,"making sentencing decisions clearer" and a much needed attempt to bringcompensation for victims of crime and wrong conviction in line.

All these have been subject a to lengthy, detailed and somewhat squalid series of bargains about legal process between both Houses which the interested observer and legal historian can consider here.

Perhaps the oddest feature of the Bill, both in terms of long term social impact and evident lack of public interest and almost total absence of public debate are sections 64 to 70 which cover the "Possession of extreme pornographic images".

The origins of this lie some years ago when Home Secretary John Reid (and others before and since) was swayed by the public indignation that arose from the violent death of 25 year old Jane Longhurst to introduce legislation to make downloading violent internet pornography an offence punishabl by imprisonment.

Jane was a special needs teacher in Brighton, who disappeared on March 14th 2004 and it was 5 weeks before her naked body was found on a fire at Wiggonholt Common, a beauty spot in Pulborough in West Sussex. A post mortem examination revealed she had been strangled by her tights.

Jane had a partner and they both had known David Coutts (then 35) and his partner for several years - at his trial for murder Coutts confessed to a "neck fetish" and police had discovered on his personal computer over 800 images of strangulation and necrophilia, many of which had been downloaded just prior to and after the murder.

Coutts had been compulsively accessing websites such as Club Dead and Rape Action, which contained images of women being abused, asphyxiated ,violated and murdered.

The prosecution was also able to piece together Coutts' activities after the murder which involved storing her body in an empty flat for 11 days before moving it to a box in a storage facility on the A270 near Brighton. CCTV evidence from the storgae facility showed that Coutts, visited the corpse 9 times in the next three weeks. When police raided the facility they found Jane's mobile phone, a pair of her knickers and a condom bearing traces of both his DNA and hers.

Graham Coutts was jailed for life - although he unsuccessfully appealed , based on the failure of the jury not being allowed to consider a case of manslaughter - Coutts had claimed Jane died accidentally during consensual sex.

Jane Longhurst's mother, Liz, began a 2 year campaign to ban the possession of the sort of images that featured in the case. She collected over 50,000 signatures and successfully lobbied Ministers.

In September 2006 the Home Office announced , in response to Longhurst's campaign, to make it an offence meriting three years in prison to download violent internet pornography.

Lord Patel discussed this at some length in June last year UK Minister of Justice to look at extreme pornography. Devlin Redux - Amazing Pictures and attempted to discuss it's introduction in the light of the (then) seismic effects of Lord Woolfenden's Report on
Homosexual Offences and Prostitution in 1957
and the ensuing and lengthy public debate led by Patrick Devlin and A L Hart .

Briefly Patrick Devlin (Later Lord ) in " The Enforcement of Morals" published in 1965 argued forcibly and with much public support that popular morality should be allowed to influence lawmaking, and that even private acts should be subject to legal sanction if they were held to be morally unacceptable by the "reasonable man", in order to preserve the moral fabric of society (Devlin's "reasonable man" , rather confusingly was one who held commonly accepted views, not necessarily derived from reason as such).

H.L.A. Hart the celebrated Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford ( and also wartime MI5 star - his wife was also widely spoken of as the mistress of Isiah Berlin) ) supported the report's opposing view in his books "Law, Liberty and Morality" published in 1963 "The Morality of the Criminal Law" (1965) and in speeches, articles etc., which he laid out a defense of the limits of law in regulating moral behavior and which drew on the concepts of legal positivism , drawn from Jeremy Bentham and Mill - and used by Woolfenden who took the view derived from J S Mill that the law had no business interfering with private acts that harmed nobody.

At the time Lord Patel took the view, reinforced by events (or lack of them) that probably no one would bother to oppose the Bill. he was correct.

This Bill has silently made considerable changes about the way the law can intrude upon the citizen's private life which to even the most assiduous readers of the press and TV have gone virtually unnoticed and unremarked. (The Register is a notable exception)

1. A new offence of "Possession" of pornography - there is of course plenty of prohibitions on the production and publication of obscene material. In explanation in the debate in the House of Lords, Lord Hunt said the intention was to, " criminalise the gratification of the individual in watching pornography in the privacy of his own home. "

2. Initially the Home Office in September 2006 said they would introduce legislation over "violent" material. The Bill as it now litters the shelves of Parliament now also includes

A) an act which involves or appears to involve sexual interference with a human corpse,
B) a person performing or appearing to perform an act of intercourse or oral sex with an animal, where (in each case) any such act, person or animal depicted in the image is or appears to be real.

Naturally there are few members of the metropolitan muttering classes who wish to make a public stand for necrophiliacs, pig fuckers and dog's dick suckers - certainly not on the benches warmed by the seats of Her Majesty's opposition.

It was thefore left almost entirely in the legislative process to the brave , Baroness Sue Miller of Chilthorne Domer , Home Affairs spokesperson for the Lib Dems, who has tried on two recent occasions to raise objections and suggest amendtments to these secions of the Bill.

In the first instance, she attempted to remove this provision altogether, as being too unclear. In the second and latest instance, she attempted to give an objective test to the definition of extreme porn by linking it to (quite reasonably) the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

Lord Hunt, the Minister for rooting out Zoophilia raised the extraordinary suggestion that such linkage might have the effect of widening the scope of the offense.

It is worth quoting at length here what Lord McIntosh of Haringeysaid in the debate :
This is fundamentally about an intrusion in the harmless private lives of ordinary citizens in this country. On Report, I spoke about the Video Recordings Act 1984. I did not repeat one of the juiciest pieces about it. Until that time, we had a British Board of Film Censors, which was not a censorship board. It classified films, and if it refused to classify them, they could still be shown with the permission of local authorities. The Video Recordings Act 1984 changed the
board from being a classification board to being a censorship board because if a video recording was not approved by the board, it could not be shown at all. From being a classification board, it became a censorship board, but its name changed from being a censorship board to a classification board. George Orwell would have been proud.

To highlight the slipshod drafting of the Bill, and the haste to get the damn thing out of the way, , the government decided to amend its own legislation. The first cut defined the offfending images caught by the legilsation that was "pornographic" and depicted "explicit realistic extreme acts". To this was added a virtually meaningless afterthought which will line many a lawyers pockets in future ... that it must also be "grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character".

From having a workable and now generally accepted understanding of what obcene means we now have not a definition but a characterisation which will fit anyone's prejudices.

Well, now it is written law , but it is worth noting the (almost) parting words of Lord Hunt on April 30th.....

"On the issue of policing, I hope that I can reassure noble Lords. The police have welcomed this offence. They see it as a further means to take illegal material out of circulation and an additional tool to deal with individuals whose behaviour may be causing concern. This is not, I suggest, a case of policing the bedroom."

To which Baroness Miller sensibly responded ..."How are they causing concern if they have committed no crime yet? They might be causing concern in all sorts of ways; they might be individuals whom the police do not much like, for a number of reasons, but then they get raided."
It was 5.25 pm
On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 13) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 91; Not-Contents, 134.

You can now safely go back to the detailed forensic descriptions, pictures, videos, thoughts, images of the activities of a crazed madman in Austria. Forests have been felled for the news print to print it, journalists have toiled to describe, and many hours of TV time have been allocated to inform the prurient public worldwide - and for which many are now settling down to their lap tops to prepare the first books and film scripts of his depravity.

There is a website backlash whch campaigned against the Bill.

....and here are a few more images that could put you in chokey if they are on your hard disk ...

To enlarge - click on the images

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(C) Very Seriously Disorganised Criminals 2002/3/4/5/6/7/8/9 - copy anything you wish