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'Extreme porn' law could criminalise millions

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Analysis If you use the internet for any purpose that might be construed as other than respectable – be afraid. Be very afraid.

Almost unreported, the UK Criminal Justice Bill is slowly wending its way toward becoming law. It includes a section (Clause 63) on "extreme pornographic images" that may, or may not, affect a very large proportion of the adult population in the UK. But that – the Bill's uncertain scope – is part of the problem.

On Monday 21 April, the Bill returned to the House of Lords for further debate. Lib Dem peer Baroness Miller brought forward a set of amendments that would effectively have removed the extreme porn clause from the Bill.

She pointed out that the evidence linking pornography with violence was weak and that the new rules would be out of kilter with the Obscene Publications Act. In her speech, the Baroness commented that "the Minister is in danger of leading his Government into becoming the thought police... we do not have any evidence to justify an intrusion in people's lives".

Further, "the Government's contention is that by viewing it [extreme porn] people are more likely to commit violent offences. Therefore, they justify walking into people's bedrooms and turning them into criminals simply for viewing something."

Labour peer, Lord McIntosh of Haringey added: "What does it matter to the Government whether what we have in our homes for our own purposes is for sexual arousal or not? What is wrong with sexual arousal anyway? That is not a matter for Parliament or government to be concerned about."

Despite considerable support from all sides for the amendment, the House voted to keep the clause in the Bill (66 votes to 30). According to the conventions of the House, Baroness Miller will not be able to resubmit the same amendments at 3rd Reading.

She will, however, introduce a new amendment. As the Bill stands, someone could be charged for owning images of acts that are lawful, but which could be construed as extreme pornography. The Minister made very weak commitments to address this problem. Baroness Miller will introduce an amendment that provides a proper defence for those who possess pornographic images of lawful acts.

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