The International Union of Sex Workers is delighted by the unanimous verdicts of not guilty on all counts in the trial of Michael Peacock that concluded at Southwark Crown Court on Friday 6th January.
Michael’s courage and determination in pursuing this case was the first challenge to the Obscene Publications Act 1959 for many years. Understandably, most people charged with offences under this Act plead guilty as an innocent plea followed by a court case that returns a guilty verdict will result in a harsher sentence. This has the effect of leaving police and CPS opinion of what is obscene untested.
The DVDs that were the subject of this prosecution were sold through Michael’s website, sleazymichael.com, and on Craigslist. They contained scenes of male fisting, urination and BDSM. Michael was charged with six counts of publishing obscene articles likely to deprave and corrupt. The jury saw a substantial amount of the content which the police and CPS deemed illegal and required less than two hours deliberation to return unanimous not guilty verdicts on all counts. Therefore material showing the activities depicted is no longer defined as obscene in law.
It’s time to decriminalise sex between consenting adults. Lady Chatterley trial of 1960 (R v Penguin Books) is still quoted as precedent in obscenity trials; the jury’s response in R v Peacock shows public opinion has clearly moved on considerably.
Catherine Stephens, activist with the International Union of Sex Workers, says:
In a week that has also seen the collapse of the Sheila Farmer trial for brothel keeping, it is time to decriminalise the sexual activities of consenting adults, whether or not they are in front of a camera. These two trials were an appalling waste of public resources: the law as it stands does nothing to enhance the safety either of the general public or those who work in the adult industry and often actively increases the dangers we face.
Michael Peacock says:
Responsible treatment of pornography would allow adults who want to access sexually explicit materials freedom to do so and protect those who are underage or do not wish to view such content. The current legal framework fails to do either of these things. I give my thanks to my legal team at Hodge Jones Allen, the judge who heard my case and the twelve people who served on the jury whose maturity and commonsense has changed the law.
Hazel Eracleous, Chair of Backlash comments:
Backlash is delighted that a jury decided it is no longer appropriate to prosecute people based on consensual adult sexual activity. We support the rights of adults to participate in all consensual sexual activities and to watch, read and create any fictional interpretation of such in any media. We will continue to raise awareness of the unseen consequences of these draconian laws, provide legal advice and defend those same consenting adults caught up in the Extreme Pornography and Obscene Publication laws.
Myles Jackman, solicitor at Hodge Jones Allen with a specialist interest in obscenity cases states:
This case shows the Obscene Publications Act is no longer effective in the age of the internet.
See also Obscenity trial: the law is not suitable for a digital age from guardian.co.uk by Myles Jackman.
Jerry Barnett, Chairman of the Adult Industry Trade Association (AITA), says:
We congratulate Michael Peacock on his victory. The idea that depictions of consenting adult sexual activity can be deemed obscene is a throwback to an earlier age. The adult industry continues to develop and adopt technologies that prevent children from accessing sexual content. We see no need for adults to be protected from it — a free society should protect the rights of adults to participate in any consenting sexual act they choose.
In the Press
The judgement seems to have captured little attention from the newspapers with the exception of the Guardian/Observer which has published several items about the news.
See article from guardian.co.uk
Feona Attwood of Sheffield Hallam University, who lectures in sex, communication and culture, and who attended the trial, said:
I think the law does not make sense. All the evidence that was heard was about whether the material had the ability to harm and corrupt. The question now is, what does that actually mean? What is significant is that the jury understood [the issues at stake].
Attwood, like others experts in the field, believes that the law has been overtaken by new understandings of the way in which people think about sexuality and the depiction of sex including whether a process actually exits that leads to moral corruption.
Others who have been deeply critical of the attempted prosecution include solicitor and New Statesman legal blogger David Allen Green. Writing during the case he said:
Obscenity is a curious criminal offence, and many would say that it now has no place in a modern liberal society, especially when all that is being portrayed in any obscene material are the consensual (if unusual) sexual acts between adults.
See also It’s time to abolish the obscenity law from newstatesman.com by Nichi Hodgson
See also Obscenity trial ends from sexonomics-uk.blogspot.com by Dr Brooke Magnanti
See also An end to Obscenity Law? from janefae.wordpress.com by Jane Fae
And from the not so delighted
Few nutter campaigners have commented so far.
From article at bbc.co.uk.
The BBC prompted a few words from Vivienne Pattison
Mediawatch-UK said the Obscene Publications Act needed to be tightened up. Its director Vivienne Pattison says the case illustrates the problem with the act:
There is not a list which says what is obscene and what is not. It makes it incredibly difficult to get a conviction on that.
As a society we are moving to a place where porn is considered as kind of fun between consenting adults, but porn is damaging.