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The BBC's Nick Higham reports
"Today's decision leaves the government's policy on pornography in a mess"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 16 May, 2000, 10:03 GMT 11:03 UK
Court rejects call for porn ban
porn graphic
Film regulators have failed in a High Court battle to ban the sale of hard core pornographic videos in licensed sex shops.

A High Court judge dismissed the British Board of Film Classification's test case over seven "extremely explicit" videos.

The BBFC had challenged a decision by its own Video Appeals Committee, which contained notable figures like novelist Fay Weldon.

But Mr Justice Hooper, sitting in London, ruled that the appeals committee was entitled to conclude that the risk of the videos being viewed by and causing harm to children was "insignificant".

He said it was a finding "that a reasonable decision-maker" was entitled to make.

Two companies, Sheptonhurst Limited - which runs a chain of sex shops - and film distributors Primetime, had appealed after the BBFC refused to allow the videos to go on sale unless they were cut, which the makers refused.

'Fatally flawed'

Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, for the BBFC, argued that unless its legal challenge was successful, all hard core porn videos would have to be classified for sale in sex shops for home use, unless they were criminally obscene or it could be proved that their sale and use would "cause devastating harm to more than a minority of children and young people".

He argued the appeal committee's view of the law was fatally flawed and frustrated a statutory policy which stressed the need to protect children from unnecessary exposure to pornographic videos which they might come across in the home.
A sex shop
Videos sold in sex shops need special licences
The BBFC brought the case to clarify the law prior to drawing up guidelines for the video industry.

The R18 certificates, which allow the videos to be sold to adults in sex shops, were withheld pending Tuesday's judgment.

Immediately after the ruling David Pannick QC, appearing for Sheptonhurst, called on the censors to issue the certificates.

'Delighted'

The BBFC was refused leave to appeal, but could still ask the Court of Appeal to consider the case.

Greg Hurlston, director of Prime Time, based in Telford, Shropshire, said he was "delighted".

He pointed out while the videos were explicit, there were no close-ups and it was consensual sex.

Clive Sullivan, a consultant to Sheptonhurst Ltd, denied the test case would "unleash the floodgates" to tidal waves of hard core porn.

He said responsibility continued to rest with parents.

"There are a few irresponsible adults in this country who permit children to have cigarettes and alcohol and perhaps some who permit children to see videos that are not appropriate for them.

Straw dissatisfied

"But we don't ban alcohol and cigarettes because of the irresponsible behaviour of a small minority," he said.

A Home Office spokesman said they were considering the ramifications of the decision.

He said: "The Home Secretary believes that the situation is unsatisfactory and will be considering carefully whether there are any effective steps which can be taken to protect children from exposure to this sexually explicit material.

"Any such changes may require legislation. We will be consulting on the options."

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See also:

24 Feb 00 | Europe
Sweden debates pornography laws
28 Oct 99 | Middle East
Porn raises temperatures in Gulf
26 Apr 00 | Middle East
Saudis seize porn movies
27 Mar 00 | Europe
Polish porn bill overturned
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