The United Kingdom's Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have just made a landmark announcement that they will no longer prosecute material made by consenting adults in legal acts under British Obscenity Law. This, dear readers, is big news, particularly for those who read / watch or make BDSM films or books.
By way of background, the Obscene Publications Act (1959) in the UK was designed to protect the public from material that could quote "deprave and corrupt" their minds. Prosecutors tried to prosecute the publishers of D.H Lawrence's famous book Lady Chatterley's Lover for "obscenity" in R v Penguin Books in 1960. And failed. It was a win for literature, and a win for the expression of sexuality, desire and humanity. The trial outcome was seen as heralding a new wave of sexual morality, and indeed by the mid-1980s Lady Chatterley's Lover was even on the school syllabus.
Lady Chatterley's Lover, First edition hardback, and popular paperback edition.
And that tradition had continued into the modern era, in which Crown Prosecution Service prosecutions of audio-visual material on obscenity charges were mostly failing.
A landmark case in 2012 was the trial of male escort Michael Peacock for DVDs promoted under the title "Sleazy Michael", in which he depicted male fisting, water sports (urination) and BDSM activities, in I might add - a consensual sexual context.
The general adult public - represented by juries - recognize increasingly that people's sexual interests and proclivities are their own to enjoy, provided that its between consensual adults and no-one is seriously injured or dies. And in the case of R v Michael Peacock, the jury found him not guilty of obscenity.
What's interesting to me also about that particular case of R v Michael Peacock, is the length that the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) went to in order to prosecute Michael. He sold his material by advertising it on Craigslist, and it was acquired by the CPS by sending and undercover police officer around to his home in Finsbury Park London to purchase some of the DVDs in what was essentially a "sting operation". And to put this in some perspective, the sexual and BDSM acts that are depicted are not illegal or criminal in UK law. So in other words you had undercover police officers going to great lengths to seek out DVDs on gay BDSM sexual acts, in order to prosecute "Sleazy Michael" for activities which were consensual and legal and between consenting adults. While the buyers of the Sleazy Michael DVDs are adults who want to see this material and have sought it out because - presumably - "they're into it". So quite where the harm is, I don't quite see. Nor did the jury, who found him not guilty of obscenity.
Male escort "Sleazy Michael" Peacock, celebrating his win with a fisting-fist raised, following his win in R v Michael Peacock (2012).
The case is quite representational of the stupid lengths that the CPS "obscenity hunters" were going to to try and seek out "obscene" material and spend much public money prosecuting independent makers of pornography for acts which were in of themselves perfectly legal.
That has all changed now, finally, with today's announcement from the CPS in the UK. Following public consultation, the CPS has announced:
“It is not for the CPS to decide what is considered good taste or objectionable. We do not propose to bring charges based on material that depicts consensual and legal activity between adults, where no serious harm is caused and the likely audience is over the age of 18. (See Guardian article 31 Jan 2019)
The CPS will, however, continue to robustly apply the law to anything which crosses the line into criminal conduct and serious harm.”
And with that announcement, makers of consensual BDSM material around the UK will let out a sigh with collective relief.
Common sense - and consensuality - has won.