Obscene Publications Act 1959 - Impact and Assessment

Impact and Assessment

The Act was found deficient in a variety of ways. Firstly, the test meant that "sting" operations where the police purchased "obscene" materials were not considered sufficient evidence of publication, since the police were not considered easy to "corrupt" due to their regular exposure to the materials. Secondly, the offer of such materials for sale was not held to be publication, since it was merely an invitation to treat. Thirdly, the courts held in Straker v DPP 1 QB 926 that negatives for photographs could not be forfeited if it was not intended to publish them, regardless of their obscene nature. As a result, the Act was amended by the Obscene Publications Act 1964, which created the offence of "possessing obscene articles for publication or sale" and also extended "obscene materials" to cover photograph negatives. Another criticism levelled at both Acts was that they failed to define "obscene" properly, relying on the old, common law definition and giving no help to the judge or jury as to how to apply it properly. In 1996 there were 562 cases brought, in which 324 individuals were convicted. Even with this small number of trials, a third of convictions resulted in prison sentences, and only a small number of cases went to jury trials. The number of prosecutions has fallen, from 309 in 1994, 131 in 1999, 39 in 2003 to 35 in 2005.

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