UK’s ‘Extreme Porn’ Law Needs to Go

BlueGavelBy Ben Suroeste

WREXHAM, Wales – There’s an old saying that comes up from time to time in legal circles: “Hard cases make bad law.”

While it’s typically used in reference to judicial holdings or sentencing, “hard cases” also clearly influence legislators to write laws designed to prevent or deter similar future cases. In the UK, certain high-profile and undeniably vicious sex crimes perpetrated by men who also happened to watch “extreme” pornography resulted in legislation criminalizing the possession of several types of porn—namely Section 63 of the UK’s Criminal Justice and Immigration Act (CJIA), as revised in 2008.

As is often the case with statutes that target an area as complicated and nuanced as expressive conduct such as filmaking, the law’s intended reach and its actual reach in terms of its application have proved two very different things.

Presumably, at least, section 63 of the CJIA was not designed to prohibit UK residents from watching “bestiality” videos that, arguably tasteless though they might be, are humorous videos involving not actual animals, but men dressed in animal costumes.

Unfortunately for former bus driver Andrew Holland, the man who was wrongly targeted for prosecution over what amounts to a bawdy joke, by the time the authorities realized their mistake—which came only after the matter had made it into court—Holland had been labeled a pervert and wrongfully convicted in the court of public opinion.

This brings us to another point that shouldn’t be lost in the conversation: A law’s unintended consequences aren’t limited to those found in a courtroom or jail cell.

Supporters of the UK’s ban on extreme porn argue that Holland’s situation didn’t stem from a weakness in the law, but is merely an indication of a botched investigation on the part of the police. It’s difficult to fathom how investigators could fail to realize a man in a tiger costume isn’t a real tiger. Their explanation is equally hard to swallow: The prosecution realized its mistake only when they heard an actor say “That’s Grrrreat!!” in Tony the Tiger-like, Frosted Flakes fashion. When they first watched the video, they didn’t have the sound on.

Here’s the best part: The Crown Prosecution Service spent six months preparing the case for trial, and in those six months, they never managed to realize they were watching a man in a tiger costume, not an actual tiger. (Seriously—that’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.)

It all would be hilarious if it weren’t so serious. Actually, scratch that. It is hilarious…unless you happen to be Andrew Holland.

Holland lost his job, received harassing phone calls in the middle of the night, and had people show up on his front porch to threaten him in person, all over a “misunderstanding” on the part of the authorities entrusted with enforcing the CJIA. He also suffered a heart attack from the stress of it all, and he continues to be harassed and ridiculed online by people who never got the memo about his innocence. All in all, those are some pretty severe consequences for a “crime” that turned out not to be a violation of the law in question in the first place.

There’s another level to Andrew Holland’s story, and it pertains to how the whole mess started. Allegedly, Holland had a bit of a difficult relationship with his local police even prior to this incident, so when the cops received a tip that Holland had images of child abuse in his possession, they undertook the raid that uncovered the “tiger sex” video, as well as a video called “Pain Olympics” that was also part of the charges against Holland. (Those charges were dropped, as well, because the “Pain Olympics” video also turned out to be an obvious joke, and not a video of abuse. What are the odds?)

Gee…. do you suppose that the existing animus between Holland and the local cops might have played a role in the police being unable to recognize that a man in a tiger costume was not, in fact, a tiger?

Actually, I’m willing to give the cops and prosecutors the benefit of the doubt on this part of the story. Why, you might ask? Well, here’s another saying you might have heard some version of, somewhere along the line: “Never attribute to malice that which can be easily explained by incompetence.”

In other words, if the cops and prosecutors in this case are comfortable self-identifying as inept, half-blind simpletons, I’m willing to take their word for it, because I’m just charitable like that.

Regardless of the underpinning humor of Holland’s unbelievable saga, his campaign to change UK law is no joke, and it’s very much deserving of public support.

Even if you think there’s some merit to banning so-called “extreme” porn, or otherwise putting limits on what sort of sexually-explicit material people ought to be allowed to produce, own or distribute, you have to admit his is a cautionary tale that should not exist. He’s a living example of the unintended (even if forseeable) consequences of enacting broad, sweeping laws, and then leaving them in the hands of authorities who can, and do, apply them capriciously and without concern for the actual intent and purpose of the law.

 

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Sue Denim

Sue Denim

editor in chief, YNOT Group LLC

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  1. Anonymous says:

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