Obscene Publications Act 1959 and 1964
The law makes it an offence to
publish, whether for gain or not, any content whose effect will tend to
"deprave and corrupt" those likely to read, see or hear the matter
contained or embodied in it. This could include images of extreme sexual
activity such as bestiality, necrophilia, rape or torture.
Obscene Publications Act 1959
An Act to amend the law relating to the publication of obscene
matter; to provide for the protection of literature; and to strengthen
the law concerning pornography.
1. Test of obscenity
(1) For the purposes of this Act an article shall be deemed to be
obscene if its effect or (where the article comprises two or more
distinct items) the effect of any one of its items is, if taken as a
whole, such as 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 it.
(2) In this Act ‘article’ means any description of article
containing or embodying matter to be read or looked at or both, any
sound record, and any film or other record of a picture or pictures.
(3) For the purposes of this Act a person publishes an article who—
(a) distributes, circulates, sells, lets on hire, gives, or lends it, or who offers it for sale or for letting on hire; or
(b) in the case of an article containing or embodying matter to
be looked at or a record, shows, plays or projects it [, or, where the
matter is data stored electronically, transmits that data].
(4) For the purposes of this Act a person also publishes an article
to the extent that any matter recorded on it is included by him in a
programme included in a programme service.
(5) Where the inclusion of any matter in a programme so included
would, if that matter were recorded matter, constitute the publication
of an obscene article for the purposes of this Act by virtue of
subsection (4) above, this Act shall have effect in relation to the
inclusion of that matter in that programme as if it were recorded
(6) In this section ‘programme’ and ‘programme service’ have the same meaning as in the Broadcasting Act 1990.
2. Prohibition of publication of obscene matter
(1) Subject as hereinafter provided, any person who, whether for
gain or not, publishes an obscene article [or who has an obscene article
for publication for gain (whether gain to himself or gain to another)]
shall be liable—
(a) on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding [the
prescribed sum] or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months;
(b) on conviction on indictment to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or both.
(2) . . .
(3) A prosecution . . . for an offence against this section shall
not be commenced more than two years after the commission of the
(3A) Proceedings for an offence under this section shall not be
instituted except by or with the consent of the Director of Public
Prosecutions in any case where the article in question is a moving
picture film of a width of not less than sixteen millimetres and the
relevant publication or the only other publication which followed or
could reasonably have been expected to follow from the relevant
publication took place or (as the case may be) was to take place in the
course of a [film exhibition]; and in this subsection ‘the relevant
(a) in the case of any proceedings under this section for
publishing an obscene article, the publication in respect of which
the defendant would be charged if the proceedings were brought;
(b) in the case of any proceedings under this section for
having an obscene article for publication for gain, the publication
which, if the proceedings were brought, the defendant would be alleged
to have had in contemplation.
(4) A person publishing an article shall not be proceeded against
for an offence at common law consisting of the publication of any matter
contained or embodied in the article where it is of the essence of the
offence that the matter is obscene.
(4A) Without prejudice to subsection (4) above, a person shall not be proceeded against for an offence at common law—
(a) in respect of a [film exhibition] or anything said or done
in the course of a [film exhibition], where it is of the essence of the
common law offence that the exhibition or, as the case may be, what
was said or done was obscene, indecent, offensive, disgusting or
injurious to morality; or
(b) in respect of an agreement to give a [film exhibition] or
to cause anything to be said or done in the course of such an
exhibition where the common law offence consists of conspiring to
corrupt public morals or to do any act contrary to public morals or
(5) A person shall not be convicted of an offence against this
section if he proves that he had not examined the article in respect of
which he is charged and had no reasonable cause to suspect that it was
such that his publication of it would make him liable to be convicted of
an offence against this section.
(6) In any proceedings against a person under this section the
question whether an article is obscene shall be determined without
regard to any publication by another person unless it could reasonably
have been expected that the publication by the other person would follow
from publication by the person charged.
(7) In this section ‘film exhibition’ has the same meaning as in the Cinemas Act 1985.
Obscene Publications Act 1964
An Act to strengthen the law for preventing the publication for gain of obscene matter and the
publication of things intended for the production of obscene matter.
1. Obscene articles intended for publication for gain
(1) [Amends the Obscene Publications Act 1959, above.]
(2) For the purpose of any proceedings for an offence against the
said section 2 a person shall be deemed to have an article for
publication for gain if with a view to such publication he has the
article in his ownership, possession or control.
(3) In proceedings brought against a person under the said section 2
for having an obscene article for publication for gain the following
provisions shall apply in place of subsections (5) and (6) of that
section, that is to say,—
(a) he shall not be convicted of that offence if he proves that
he had not examined the article and had no reasonable cause to suspect
that it was such that his having it would make him liable to be
convicted of an offence against that section; and 2 Obscene Publications
(b) the question whether the article is obscene shall be
determined by reference to such publication for gain of the article as
in the circumstances it may reasonably be inferred he had in
contemplation and to any further publication that could reasonably be
expected to follow from it, but not to any other publication.
(4) Where articles are seized under section 3 of the Obscene
Publications Act 1959 (which provides for the seizure and forfeiture of
obscene articles kept for publication for gain), and a person is
convicted under section 2 of that Act of having them for publication for
gain, the court on his conviction shall order the forfeiture of those
Provided that an order made by virtue of this subsection (including
an order so made on appeal) shall not take effect until the expiration
of the ordinary time within which an appeal in the matter of the
proceedings in which the order was made may be instituted or, where such
an appeal is duly instituted, until the appeal is finally decided or
abandoned; and for this purpose—
(a) an application for a case to be stated or for leave to appeal shall be treated as the institution of an appeal; and
(b) where a decision on appeal is subject to a further appeal,
the appeal shall not be deemed to be finally decided until the
expiration of the ordinary time within which a further appeal may be
instituted or, where a further appeal is duly instituted, until the
further appeal is finally decided or abandoned.
(5) References in section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act 1959
and this section to publication for gain shall apply to any publication
with a view to gain, whether the gain is to accrue by way of
consideration for the publication or in any other way.