Obscenity victory

An illiberal and misconceived prosecution fails at Southwark Crown Court.

The jury at Southwark Crown Court has returned unanimous Not Guilty verdicts on each of the six charges under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 against Michael Peacock.

The prosecution failed to convince a single juror that any of the DVD material distributed by Peacock was "depraving and corrupting" under the 1959 Act. The DVDs contained sexual practices such as fisting, BDSM, and so-called "watersports" depicted between consenting adults.

Statement from Crown Prosecution Service:

The CPS charged Michael Peacock with publishing obscene articles for gain, as we were satisfied that there was sufficient evidence to secure a realistic prospect of conviction, and that it was in the public interest to prosecute these allegations.

The prosecution was not only about the content of the material, but the way in which it was being distributed to others, without checks being made as to the age or identity of recipients.

The judge was satisfied that there was a case to answer, but having heard all of the evidence for both the prosecution and the defence, the jury acquitted the defendant.

We respect the jury's decision.

Statement from Mr Peacock's solicitors Hodge Jones & Allen:

The trial of Michael Peacock for six counts of distributing obscene DVDs under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 concluded today with an acquittal.

The jury, which had watched large parts of the 'hard core' male-on-male DVDs took under 2 hours to find Mr Peacock not guilty.

Mr Peacock had been advertising the DVDs online and selling them from his flat in Brixton. Officers from SCD9 (the former Obscene Publications Squad of the Met) saw the adverts and operated an undercover test purchase. Six DVD's featuring various sex acts including 'fisting' and BDSM were deemed by police to be obscene and Mr Peacock was prosecuted.

Myles Jackman, a solicitor at Hodge Jones & Allen, with a specialist interest in obscenity law, commented: "The jury's verdict is a significant victory for common sense suggesting that the OPA has been rendered irrelevant in the digital age. Normal jurors did not consider representations of consensual adult sexuality would deprave and corrupt the viewer."

Senior Criminal Partner, Nigel Richardson, acting for Mr Peacock, stated that "from the outset Michael has displayed an enormous amount of courage in contesting these charges. The jury's verdict vindicates his decision to challenge this arcane and archaic legislation. The result is also a testament to [HJA crime partner] Sandra Paul's persuasive advocacy."

More to follow.


David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Want to know how you really behave as a doctor? Watch yourself on video

There is nothing quite like watching oneself at work to spur development – and videos can help us understand patients, too.

One of the most useful tools I have as a GP trainer is my video camera. Periodically, and always with patients’ permission, I place it in the corner of my registrar’s room. We then look through their consultations together during a tutorial.

There is nothing quite like watching oneself at work to spur development. One of my trainees – a lovely guy called Nick – was appalled to find that he wheeled his chair closer and closer to the patient as he narrowed down the diagnosis with a series of questions. It was entirely unconscious, but somewhat intimidating, and he never repeated it once he’d seen the recording. Whether it’s spending half the consultation staring at the computer screen, or slipping into baffling technospeak, or parroting “OK” after every comment a patient makes, we all have unhelpful mannerisms of which we are blithely unaware.

Videos are a great way of understanding how patients communicate, too. Another registrar, Anthony, had spent several years as a rheumatologist before switching to general practice, so when consulted by Yvette he felt on familiar ground. She began by saying she thought she had carpal tunnel syndrome. Anthony confirmed the diagnosis with some clinical tests, then went on to establish the impact it was having on Yvette’s life. Her sleep was disturbed every night, and she was no longer able to pick up and carry her young children. Her desperation for a swift cure came across loud and clear.

The consultation then ran into difficulty. There are three things that can help CTS: wrist splints, steroid injections and surgery to release the nerve. Splints are usually the preferred first option because they carry no risk of complications, and are inexpensive to the NHS. We watched as Anthony tried to explain this. Yvette kept raising objections, and even though Anthony did his best to address her concerns, it was clear she remained unconvinced.

The problem for Anthony, as for many doctors, is that much medical training still reflects an era when patients relied heavily on professionals for health information. Today, most will have consulted with Dr Google before presenting to their GP. Sometimes this will have stoked unfounded fears – pretty much any symptom just might be an indication of cancer – and our task then is to put things in proper context. But frequently, as with Yvette, patients have not only worked out what is wrong, they also have firm ideas what to do about it.

We played the video through again, and I highlighted the numerous subtle cues that Yvette had offered. Like many patients, she was reticent about stating outright what she wanted, but the information was there in what she did and didn’t say, and in how she responded to Anthony’s suggestions. By the time we’d finished analysing their exchanges, Anthony could see that Yvette had already decided against splints as being too cumbersome and taking too long to work. For her, a steroid injection was the quickest and surest way to obtain relief.

Competing considerations must be weighed in any “shared” decision between a doctor and patient. Autonomy – the ability for a patient to determine their own care – is of prime importance, but it isn’t unrestricted. The balance between doing good and doing harm, of which doctors sometimes have a far clearer appreciation, has to be factored in. Then there are questions of equity and fairness: within a finite NHS budget, doctors have a duty to prioritise the most cost-effective treatments. For the NHS and for Yvette, going straight for surgery wouldn’t have been right – nor did she want it – but a steroid injection is both low-cost and low-risk, and Anthony could see he’d missed the chance to maximise her autonomy.

The lessons he learned from the video had a powerful impact on him, and from that day on he became much more adept at achieving truly shared decisions with his patients.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory tide