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Obscenity law: Jury acquittal in obscenity case shows law has failed to keep up with the times

The validity of provisions contained in the Obscene Publications Act 1959 has been called into question after a jury at Southwark Crown Court acquitted a London man in a trial relating to the distribution of obscene material.

The case concerned defendant Michael Peacock, who ran a business distributing extreme pornographic DVDs via the online trade site, Craigslist. The DVDs featured acts including male fisting, urination, bondage and sadomasochism.

He was arrested and charged with six counts of publishing obscene articles likely to 'deprave and corrupt' in accordance with the Obscene Publications Act 1959.

The law does not criminalise all of the acts depicted in the DVDs themselves; however, representation of them is potentially criminal.

The law as it stands features a test whereby an article is considered obscene if it is decided that it would tend to deprave and corrupt the reader, viewer or listener. This was the matter for the jury to decide in this case.

Critics of the law point to the availability of large quantities of free-to-view pornography on the internet. Previous legal cases have tended to view pornography as the preserve of rugby club lads and stag parties; however, in the modern age explicit material is available to any man or woman with a computer and an internet connection.

In acquitting the defendant in this case the jury are seemingly suggesting that members of the public accept that access to consensual adult pornography is a normal and unremarkable part of daily life.

The law still makes some forms of sexual activity illegal. The House of Lords' judgment in R v Brown states that individuals cannot legally consent to a sexual assault which is greater than transient and trifling.

In this case, a group of men were convicted of assault occasioning actual bodily harm for inflicting wounding on each other, despite the fact that the victims consented and refused to press charges afterwards.

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