Censorship Laws Used To Attack Homosexuals

In September 2011, a man accessed a legal gay porn site from a hotel room’s computer. A subsequent guest saw the site listed in the browser history and (for reasons best known to herself) complained to the hotel management. Six months later, the man was arrested and his computer seized. Police later charged him with making indecent images of children and possession of an image of a child being abused.

This week, the charges were dropped. The images were all found to come from legal web sites and were of young-looking men, but not of children. What is truly bizarre is that the police had not bothered to carry out the most basic checks on their evidence before presenting the case to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Neither had the CPS questioned the poor state of the evidence before deciding to take the case to court. Meanwhile, a man had been publicly linked to child abuse – a slur that ruins lives, whether or not it has any substance.

The case collapsed because the man’s lawyer, Myles Jackman, carried out the basic evidence-checking that the authorities had failed to do, and found that the images came from a site that had retained model identification information under America’s USC 2257 law. Even when he presented this evidence to the CPS, they failed to drop charges for several more months. After two years of having his name dragged through the mud (during which time his father died, never seeing the outcome of the case), the man was exonerated.

Jackman believes there is strong evidence that the CPS uses its powers to persecute gay men. The same appears to apply to the police. Indeed, after homosexuality was legalised, the police continued to raid gay venues, using the Obscene Publications Act (OPA) rather than the previous laws that had allowed them to directly target homosexuals.

In the infamous Spanner case of 1987, police prosecuted gay men who had videoed their sadomasochistic parties. Although their acts all took place in private, and between consenting adults, they were convicted of causing wounding and actual bodily harm; the judge ruled that a person had no right to consent be assaulted (although this ruling doesn’t seem to apply in TV shows like Jackass, which are deemed suitable for UK TV broadcast).

In the 2012 Michael Peacock case, another gay man was prosecuted, this time under the OPA, for distributing “obscene” gay S&M videos. OPA prosecutions usually result in a guilty plea to avoid the publicity and cost of a trial, but Peacock chose to defend himself (Jackman was his solicitor), and was found not guilty by a jury, in a decision that left the very basis of UK obscenity law in tatters.

Also in 2012, Simon Walsh (who is, you might have guessed, a gay man) was charged under the ridiculous 2008 “extreme porn” law, for possession of images of sex between consenting gay men; again, he was found not guilty, but only at the cost of his career and at huge personal expense.

The state, it appears, has not yet accepted that homosexuality is legal. Furthermore, the existence of a series of badly written censorship laws has given the police and CPS the power to harass people at will, whether for homophobic or other reasons. Laws drafted to protect children from abuse,  and to “protect” the public from obscene material (whether or not the public needs or wants such protection) are used as tools of persecution.

The original British censorship law, the OPA, seems to serve no useful purpose. Denmark scrapped its obscenity laws in 1969, yet Danish society failed to collapse. But in recent decades, an endless stream of new censorship laws have been added to the statute books, most of them more illiberal than the OPA, which at least allows the accused to request a trial by jury.

Somehow, most democracies survive without the weight of state censorship power that the British authorities have at their disposal. Indeed, some of these laws would be unconstitutional in the United States. Perhaps it is time to join the dots: Spanner, Peacock, Walsh, as well as this week’s events, as well as many others. Censorship appears to gain us nothing as a society, but it erodes the rights of law-abiding citizens, and especially those of sexual minorities.


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11 thoughts on “Censorship Laws Used To Attack Homosexuals

  1. surely censorship laws are being used to attack a lot of people not just ‘homosexuals’.

    For example, Paul Chambers and John Kerlen (‘straight’ men), both of whom were arrested and charged for acts of ‘speech’ on twitter and both won on appeal after very lengthy cases.

    Turning it into an issue of sexual identity politics might not actually help us get freedom. because identity politics can be pretty ‘censorious’ themselves

    1. I agree. These laws can be used to persecute anyone, but it’s clear that some groups are targeted more than others. There are two overlapping points here: bad laws, and homophobia in the police/CPS.

      1. HI it’s actually only clear if one provides proper evidence of rates of ‘targeting’. A couple of examples is not enough I am afraid.

        1. That’s a fair point. Anyone want to crunch some stats? 🙂

          In general, it’s virtually inevitable that the prosecution of bad laws will reflect societal prejudices. This has been well documented (for example) in relation to drugs laws and racial targeting.

          1. social prejudices change though. there is also evidence of a decline in homophobia. see Mccormack (2012) Anderson (2010)

            and ‘race’ and ‘sexuality’ don’t necessarily play out the same in law.

            Also sexuality is not necessarily a visible characteristic in a way ethnicity can be. So how do we measure how people of certain sexualities are treated by the cjs?

            This is a complex area so simple conclusions probably don’t suffice.

          2. There’s quite obviously been a steep decline in homophobia: I don’t think I ever saw gay men dare to kiss in public until maybe the early 90s. There has also been a steep decline in racism in that timeframe, despite an apparent upsurge in recent years.

            Still, despite any decline there are clearly more people who dislike homosexuals than those who dislike heterosexuals, which is the relevant comparison here.

  2. well the cps are not here to ‘like’ people and your comment still does not prove ‘institutional homophobia’ in the cps. Mccormack( 2012) The prisons have many many white heterosexual men in them too and yet apparently they have the most ‘privilege’ of anyone in society. Hmm

    1. sorry was going to mention Mccormack (2012) because he wrote that in a time of declining homophobia, the accusation of ‘homophobia’ is more loaded – there is ‘stigma’ to being/being called a ‘homophobe’. so I think we should use the term with caution (and proper evidence!)

      Thanks for the replies. Best wishes, QRG

    2. I agree with the general thrust of your comments. The meaningless use of words like “privilege” and “oppressed” is widespread. Some people revel in their “victim” status. Lucrative careers are made by playing the victim card. It’s sad… however, that doesn’t mean that prejudice doesn’t exist. It just means that much of the commentarati don’t understand what it means.

  3. The test which the CPS (and hence police) must apply when deciding whether to pursue a case is described in the Code for Crown Prosecutors and it is this: “Is there a realistic prospect of conviction.” Note: it does not say “Do you think the defendant is guilty?” That judgement is for the jury to decide. It simply says a “realistic prospect of conviction.”

    The depressing reality is that when the defendant is a gay man, especially a closeted gay man, there is always — ALWAYS — a realistic prospect of conviction, even if the evidence is weak (as it was in this case) or the allegation against him absurd (ditto.)

    If the allegation is one of a sexual nature and the expected sentence not too severe, many will plead guilty just to try to keep their name out of the newspapers. As for those inclined to fight the charges, they know that it only takes a couple of opinionated “conservatives” on the jury to swing the verdict. And they know that if they are sentenced after trial the sentence will be much harsher than if they pleaded guilty. It’s a big risk.

    As someone once said “When you go to trial you’re putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren’t even smart enough to get out of jury service.” If you were facing the prospect of a community order following a guilty plea or a spell in prison following conviction by jury, would you take the risk?

    So, is the CPS homophobic? Well… I’d say they’re opportunist, certainly.

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