It has emerged that a loophole in the Video Recordings Act of 1984 exists which appears to suggest that it has not been illegal to sell 18-rated material – including hardcore pornography – to minors in the UK for the past 25 years.
When the Video Recordings Act 1984 was drafted it stipulated that videos must be classified and age rated by the British Board of Film Classification. But the Conservative government of the day failed to notify the European Commission about the Act, as they were required to do so under an EU Directive, meaning it was never legally enforceable. Dozens of impending prosecutions have now had to be dropped and no more can be instigated until the Act is re-enacted under emergency legislation, which could take up to three months.
In a letter from Culture Media and Sport Minister Barbara Follett to a number of industry bodies she said: “Unfortunately, the discovery of this omission means that, a quarter of a century later, the VRA is no longer enforceable against individuals in United Kingdom courts.”
But, according to Mrs Follett, this does not mean that anyone previously prosecuted under the VRA can have their convictions quashed, despite the flaw in the legislation. She said: “Our legal advice is that those previously prosecuted will be unable to overturn their prosecution or receive financial recompense.”
The Liberal Democrat’s culture spokesman Don Foster told the BBC: “The Conservatives’ incompetence when they were in government has made laws designed to prevent video piracy and protect children from harmful DVDs unenforceable and thrown film censorship into chaos. This must be a massive embarrassment to the Tories, especially as David Cameron was the special adviser to the Home Secretary in 1993 when the law was amended.”
The legal blunder came to light when the government was looking to update the Act to include a new classification system for video games.