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

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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Grenfell survivors were promised no rent rises – so why have the authorities gone quiet?

The council now says it’s up to the government to match rent and services levels.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell disaster, the government made a pledge that survivors would be rehoused permanently on the same rent they were paying previously.

For families who were left with nothing after the fire, knowing that no one would be financially worse off after being rehoused would have provided a glimmer of hope for a stable future.

And this is a commitment that we’ve heard time and again. Just last week, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) reaffirmed in a statement, that the former tenants “will pay no more in rent and service charges for their permanent social housing than they were paying before”.

But less than six weeks since the tragedy struck, Kensington and Chelsea Council has made it perfectly clear that responsibility for honouring this lies solely with DCLG.

When it recently published its proposed policy for allocating permanent housing to survivors, the council washed its hands of the promise, saying that it’s up to the government to match rent and services levels:

“These commitments fall within the remit of the Government rather than the Council... It is anticipated that the Department for Communities and Local Government will make a public statement about commitments that fall within its remit, and provide details of the period of time over which any such commitments will apply.”

And the final version of the policy waters down the promise even further by downplaying the government’s promise to match rents on a permanent basis, while still making clear it’s nothing to do with the council:

It is anticipated that DCLG will make a public statement about its commitment to meeting the rent and/or service charge liabilities of households rehoused under this policy, including details of the period of time over which any such commitment will apply. Therefore, such commitments fall outside the remit of this policy.”

It seems Kensington and Chelsea council intends to do nothing itself to alter the rents of long-term homes on which survivors will soon be able to bid.

But if the council won’t take responsibility, how much power does central government actually have to do this? Beyond a statement of intent, it has said very little on how it can or will intervene. This could leave Grenfell survivors without any reassurance that they won’t be worse off than they were before the fire.

As the survivors begin to bid for permanent homes, it is vital they are aware of any financial commitments they are making – or families could find themselves signing up to permanent tenancies without knowing if they will be able to afford them after the 12 months they get rent free.

Strangely, the council’s public Q&A to residents on rehousing is more optimistic. It says that the government has confirmed that rents and service charges will be no greater than residents were paying at Grenfell Walk – but is still silent on the ambiguity as to how this will be achieved.

Urgent clarification is needed from the government on how it plans to make good on its promise to protect the people of Grenfell Tower from financial hardship and further heartache down the line.

Kate Webb is head of policy at the housing charity Shelter. Follow her @KateBWebb.