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What now for the Obscene Publications Act?

History was made on January 6th 2012 when Michael Peacock pleaded not guilty to a charge under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and won his case. He had been charged with six counts of obscene publication for distributing DVDs which featured acts which are legal to perform but not depict and the jury found him not guilty on all six counts.

The trial took place over four days at Southwark Crown Court and the films included full-hand gay fisting, urolagina, BDSM and a staged non consensual scene. They had been advertised in magazines and also sold through Peacock’s website, sleazymichael.com. After seeing the adverts, the Human Exploitation and Organised Crime Command of London’s Metropolitan Police made test purchases from Peacock. After the police had examined the DVDs Peacock was charged.

The Obscene Publications Act 1959 states that an article is obscene if it is liable to “deprave and corrupt” the reader, viewer or listener and although the jury were reportedly visibly alarmed when they were first shown the material, they subsequently looked quite bored. After two hours of deliberation the not guilty verdict was delivered. If Peacock had been found guilty he could have faced a five year prison sentence.

There has since been speculation that this verdict could render the Obscene Publications Act irrelevant. This would be of significant interest to R18 DVD publishers and distributors, who until now have been forced by the BBFC to cut scenes from the own films to ensure they do not contravene the Obscene Publications Act.

The outcome of the case could have been different if Peacock had been prosecuted under the Video Recordings Act for selling unclassified DVDs and/or supplying hardcore pornography outside of a licensed sex shop premises.