Tuesday, May 06, 2008

UK Criminal Justice Bill - Clause 62 (or is it 63, or 64?)

Although it hasn't yet caused much of a public stir, Clause 62 in the UK Criminal Justice Bill certainly hasn't gone unnoticed in the forensics community (judging by the number of news submissions received at Forensic Focus). There's also plenty of debate at various general IT sites such as The Register.

So, what is the clause? Well, the entire Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill is covered in some detail here but the relevant clause can be found here (and I apologise for the confusion over the numbering of the clause, I've seen it specified as variously 62, 63 and 64).

In a nutshell, the clause seeks to shift criminal responsibility from the producer (as specified in the existing Obscene Publications Act, although this will remain in force) to the person who possesses the image(s) in question.

The background to the Bill is a tragic one, involving the murder of Jane Longhurst five years ago at the hands of a man addicted to violent pornography. Liz Longhurst, Jane's mother, then began to campaign against such images and was supported by the Home Secretary at the time.

The proposed new laws are, however, controversial with campaigners fighting against their introduction primarily citing concerns over the (lack of) evidence linking pornography with violence, the vagueness of the offence and the risk that a large number of people will be criminalised unfairly.

Regardless of what we might think of the clause on a personal level, it's clear that its introduction will have consequences for some forensic examiners in the UK. Only time will tell what impact, if any, it has on violent sex crime.

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