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Fisting on trial

The obscenity case continues against Michael Peacock.

The trial continues today of Michael Peacock, who has been charged under the Obscene Publications Act 1959 for distributing DVDs featuring various sex acts including fisting, so-called "water sports", and BDSM.

Peacock's defence is being conducted by law firm Hodge Jones & Allen whose lawyer Myles Jackman has blogged about the case here.

In essence, the prosecution have to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the DVDs distributed by Peacock are such that their effect would be "to tend to deprave and corrupt persons who are likely, having regard to all relevant circumstances, to read, see or hear the matter contained or embodied" in the DVDs. Whether the DVDs would tend to deprave and corrupt any such person is a question of fact for the jury, who presumably have had to watch the DVDs as part of their compulsory jury service and not be depraved or corrupted in the process.

Obscenity is a curious criminal offence, and many would say that it now has no place in a modern liberal society, especially when all that is being portrayed in any "obscene material" are the consensual (if unusual) sexual acts between adults. That said, the Crown Prosecution Service has decided it is in the public interest to prosecute Peacock over these products, and the judge and jury are (rightly) obliged to apply the law to the facts which are determined by trial. Accordingly Peacock may well be convicted and, if so, faces up to five years imprisonment.

Whatever the outcome, R v Peacock may well turn out to be an important test case on the boundaries of obscenity law. As Jackman says:

Perhaps illogically, of these sexual acts, fisting and urination are completely legal to perform in real life; and thus it is only the representation of these acts on film which may be considered obscene and therefore attract criminal liability.

Consequently many pornographic film producers operate a "four finger rule" to avoid the risk of criminal prosecution. This means that in such films only four fingers are inserted into the performers' vagina or anus, rather than the entire fist.

It could be argued that this is an entirely arbitrary distinction as the act of fisting itself is not illegal.

However, many pornographic film producers remain risk-averse and therefore the presumption that urination and fisting are obscene has endured as it seems that no previous defendant has been prepared to test the law in this area by electing jury trial.

It is expected today will be the last day of the trial, with expert defence evidence being provided by academics researching into sex and the media. Tweets from the trial can be followed at #ObscenityTrial.

The trial continues.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman

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