Obscene Publications Acts (1959 & 1964)

Under the Obscene Publications Acts, it is an offence for organisation to publish an obscene article or to own, possess or control it, including when it is stored electronically and/or the information is transmitted.

The Crown Prosecution Service is responsible for bringing allegations concerning obscene publications to court and have set out prosecution guidelines to help companies facing legal action. IT departments must therefore ensure that the organisations systems and networks are protected from any possible illegal activities.

  • The Obscene Publications Act 1959 amends the law relating to the publication of obscene matter, provides for the protection of literature and strengthens the law concerning pornography.
  • The Obscene Publication Act 1964 strengthens the law for preventing the publication for gain of obscene matter and the publication of things intended for the production of obscene matter.

A publication should not deprave and corrupt people who read, see or hear about its subject matter.

Offences

The law makes it an offence to publish, whether for gain or not, any content whose effect will tend to "deprave and corrupt" those likely to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied in it. This could include images of extreme sexual activity such as bestiality, necrophilia, rape or torture.

Penalties

Any person who, whether for gain or not, publishes an obscene article [or who has an obscene article for publication for gain (whether gain to himself or gain to another)] shall be liable—

  • 1(a) on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding [the prescribed sum] or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months;
  • (b) on conviction on indictment to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or both.
  • (2) . . .
  • (3) A prosecution . . . for an offence against this section shall not be commenced more than two years after the commission of the offence.
  • (3A) Proceedings for an offence under this section shall not be instituted except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions

Defences

  • (5) A person shall not be convicted of an offence against this section if he proves that he had not examined the article in respect of which he is charged and had no reasonable cause to suspect that it was such that his publication of it would make him liable to be convicted of an offence against this section.
  • (6) In any proceedings against a person under this section the question whether an article is obscene shall be determined without regard to any publication by another person unless it could reasonably have been expected that the publication by the other person would follow from publication by the person charged.
  • (7) In this section ‘film exhibition’ has the same meaning as in the Cinemas Act 1985.

Obscene Publication Act 1964 (c74)

Obscene articles intended for publication for gain

  • (1) [Amends the Obscene Publications Act 1959, above.]
  • (2) For the purpose of any proceedings for an offence against the said section 2 a person shall be deemed to have an article for publication for gain if with a view to such publication he has the article in his ownership, possession or control.
  • (3) In proceedings brought against a person under the said section 2 for having an obscene article for publication for gain the following provisions shall apply in place of subsections (5) and (6) of that section, that is to say,—

- (a) he shall not be convicted of that offence if he proves that he had not examined the article and had no reasonable cause to suspect that it was such that his having it would make him liable to be convicted of an offence against that section;

- (b) the question whether the article is obscene shall be determined by reference to such publication for gain of the article as in the circumstances it may reasonably be inferred he had in contemplation and to any further publication that could reasonably be expected to follow from it, but not to any other publication.

(4) Where articles are seized under section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 (which provides for the seizure and forfeiture of obscene articles kept for publication for gain), and a person is convicted under section 2 of that Act of having them for publication for gain, the court on his conviction shall order the forfeiture of those articles: Provided that an order made by virtue of this subsection (including an order so made on appeal) shall not take effect until the expiration of the ordinary time within which an appeal in the matter of the proceedings in which the order was made may be instituted or, where such an appeal is duly instituted, until the appeal is finally decided or abandoned; and for this purpose—

  • (a) an application for a case to be stated or for leave to appeal shall be treated as the institution of an appeal; and
  • (b) where a decision on appeal is subject to a further appeal, the appeal shall not be deemed to be finally decided until the expiration of the ordinary time within which a further appeal may be instituted or, where a further appeal is duly instituted, until the further appeal is finally decided or abandoned.

(5) References in section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and this section to publication for gain shall apply to any publication with a view to gain, whether the gain is to accrue by way of consideration for the publication or in any other way.

Supervision and enforcement

Reference

Obscene Publications Act 1959

UK/1959/C/66

Obscene Publication Act 1964

UK/1964/C/74