Who'd a thought it, a few days away from computer access and they choose to announce the results of the judicial review. A tad worrying that there is a sexual offences bill coming up very soon now and now doubt a few
prohibitions can be tagged to the end. Jackboots Straw hardly seems the sort to bother with demorcacy or consultations etc, he is on a 'mission from God'.
From the Guardian
Jack Straw, the home secretary, threatened a shake-up of Britain's obscenity laws after a landmark high court ruling yesterday that the film censors were wrong to ban the sale of double X explicit hardcore porn videos in licensed adult
sex shops in Britain. Mr Justice Hooper dismissed the test case brought by Andreas Whittam Smith's BBFC, saying that the risk of the seven videos involved being seen by and causing harm to children was, on the present evidence, insignificant.
The BBFC last night refused to comment in detail on its defeat but when it started the case last September, Mr Whittam Smith said that failure would have `fundamental implications' for all its decisions on classifying videos and films,
including those involving unacceptable levels of violence.
The judgment reinforces the legal view that adults should not be prevented from access to explicit material just because it might be harmful to children if it fell into their hands. As TV `decency' campaigners claimed that the decision
would open the floodgates to hardcore pornography , Mr Straw said he would, if necessary, bring in new legislation to sort out the current `shambles' of the obscenity laws.
The home secretary believes that the situation is unsatisfactory and it will be considered carefully whether additional steps can be taken to protect children from exposure to this sexually explicit material. Any such changes may
require legislation, a Home Office statement said. Mr Straw made clear his anger at the decision and said that he had personally intervened to replace the BBFC acting president, Lord Birkett, with Mr Whittam Smith to stop
the licensing of such `stronger' videos to be sold in adult sex shops.
The target of his anger is the 1984 Video Recordings Act, introduced as a private member's bill to curb the alleged excesses of `video nasties'. The case centres on a decision by the independent Video Appeals Committee to overturn the
BBFC's refusal to give a special R18 certificate to seven `hardcore' videos produced by Sheptonhurst Ltd and Prime Time (Shifnal) for restricted sale in Britain's 80 licensed sex shops.
The committee, which is chaired by John Wood, a former deputy director of public prosecutions, includes the novelist Fay Weldon. The film censors said the seven videos - called Horny Catbabe, Nympho Nurse Nancy, TV Sex, Office Tart,
Carnival International Version (trailer), Wet Nurses 2 Continental Version and Miss Nude International Continental Version - should not be licensed unless all shots of penetration by penis, hand or dildo as well as shots of a penis
being masturbated or taken into a woman's mouth were removed.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill, for the BBFC, told the high court that if the videos were allowed to be sold all hardcore material would have to be licensed unless it was criminally obscene or could be shown to cause devastating harm to
more than a minority of children and young people . But Mr Justice Hooper said the assessment by the Video Appeals Committee that the risk to children was insignificant was a reasonable conclusion.
Greg Hurlstone, a director of Prime Time, said he was delighted but insisted his US-made videos were double X rather than triple X productions, as they featured consensual penetrative sex without close-ups and no ejaculation or illegal
practices. Last night Clive Sullivan, a consultant to Sheptonhurst, insisted that the decision would not unleash a flood of European triple X hardcore films: There are still limits which will be applied , he said. But John Beyer of the
National Viewers and Listeners' Association called for new legislation to clamp down on porn. This will open the floodgates to hardcore pornography , he said.
Pertinent Comment from Polly Toynbee in the Guardian
William Hague is right. There is a liberal consensus: it is a consensus among New Labour and Tories alike to demonise liberals. These days if you bleat sheepishly at senior ministers that the liberal agenda has become the sacrificial
lamb in the New Labour project, they grin and lick their lips wolfishly. They take it as a compliment. Labour likes to balance its progressive social policies with toughness on liberal causes. If liberals aren't hurting, then the third way isn't
working. And so this week we had the repellent spectacle of Hague and Straw outbidding one another in punitive anti-liberal rhetoric on law and order to the Police Federation.
Jack Straw vented his fury on liberals again this week after the failure of the courts to overrule the video appeals committee, who gave a handful of hardcore porn videos R18 licences for sale in adult sex shops. The obscenity law is a
`shambles' Straw decreed, promising to reform the whole thing. Good luck to him. I sat on the Williams committee on obscenity and film censorship, appointed in the dying days of the last Labour government. It was we who recommended the concept of the
R18 licence, a decent compromise between letting adults do as they wish (within the law), yet protecting children and anyone else who doesn't want to see the stuff. We reckoned any portrayal of non-violent sex between consenting adults should be
available to adults who liked that sort of thing. Children would be protected by only selling hardcore in windowless sex shops barred to under-18s. These sleazy joints have not exactly over-run the nation: there are only 80 of them nationwide.
Nympho Nurse Nancy and Office Tarts - the titles of these disputed videos brought it all back, those strange and embarrassing afternoon viewings in a special cinema, followed by finely balanced legal
and academic discussion. Our report decided that causing `significant harm' should be the only reason to ban anything. The seven videos in court this week are precisely what we had in mind for an R18 rating: consensual non-violent sex, explicit but
harmless. However the BBFC refused a licence unless the film-maker removed `all shots of penetration by penis, a penis being masturbated or taken into a woman's mouth'. I imagine that would leave most of the film on the cutting room floor. Some of
the horrors we saw stay with me - Ilsa She-Wolf of the SS was just one of many indescribably vile films that failed the `significant harm' test, but why should adults in private be denied the right to watch non-violent sex? If the government really
wanted to change the current sleazy, over-sexualised cultural climate, they should have eschewed the company of Rupert Murdoch, the pornographer who first broke all public decency barriers in his `family' Sun.
Here I declare an interest. In 1998 a firm of head hunters wanted to put my name forward for the post of vice-president of the BBFC, one of two deputies to Andreas Whittam-Smith. I laughed a good deal as I knew this would get nowhere,
since despite apparent independence of government, the home secretary vets the top BBFC appointments. I told the interviewing board that they were wasting their time but they still sent my name to the home secretary. Of course Straw struck my name
out. Why should he appoint a self-confessed liberal? I'd have done the same. What is the point of giving the moral right gratuitous targets? So it is not personal. But I do object to Jack Straw's persistent and deliberate war on every liberal front
he can find, stamping Labour with his macho Mail-friendly imprint. Yesterday William Hague laid into the `liberal establishment' with relish, lambasting `liberal thinking' on crime. What is he talking about? Prison numbers have risen steadily under
Labour - 66,000 now, the highest in history, another 20,000 being planned for. Britain has the highest proportion of people in prison in Europe, and proportionately more than those well known liberal regimes, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and China. We have
more life prisoners than all the rest of Europe put together. But still that's not enough for Hague or Straw, each now competing to send yet more inside.
So how is the country to know where we stand on law and order? Who would guess from our political leaders that we are already the toughest? Prison works so badly for the young that 90% of the under 18s we lock up reoffend. You don't
hear Jack Straw salute the Nacro scheme where only 20% of young criminals reoffend, if given housing, training and support. Alas, the tougher a home secretary talks, the more the courts respond by giving harsher sentences. The Hague/Straw caricature
of the liberal is someone soft on crime, indifferent to victims, living in a Hampstead Elysium where crime never affects their lives. But reformers are just as tough on crime, in some ways tougher, more eager to stop it with proven remedies. Liberals
know its the poor who are mainly the victims of crime, and they despise those who use punitive rhetoric for political gain, fraudulently deceiving the public about what really works.
Take all the issues that still require informed public debate. Why is Labour so cowardly about persuading people by reasoned argument? The government behaves as if public opinion were some immutable natural force like the weather.
Where is the leadership on difficult things? Joining the euro hangs there in limbo, Peter Mandelson stamped on for bravely speaking some truth. Where is the leadership on proportional representation? Why run from any debate on cannabis? Above all,
consider the question of asylum seekers. No one is advocating an open door policy: Europe has to have immigration controls. The objection to Labour's approach is its language and attitude towards these very poor people - the ones with most
get-up-and-go and intitiative - desperately trying to better themselves and their children. That's not a crime. Most of the cabinet would try it too if they were poverty stricken foreigners. These are not `bogus' people, they are poor. They are
non-qualifiers, not villains. By its harsh treatment (and disgracefully incompetent administration), by its brutalising attitude, Labour has helped stoke up the public hatred that they now fear so much in all their private polls.
Under a barrage from the rightwing press Labour cowers and placates on all these tough subjects. Most of you, gentle Guardian readers, don't see the daily bombardment of rightwing hate. But how will the country ever become better
informed, nicer, less bigoted, unless a strong Labour government goes out to change hearts and minds? Liberal bravery would gain them friends, cowardice invites contempt even from the enemy.