HC Deb 25 July 1979 vol 971 cc235-6W
Mr. Gummer

asked the Attorney-General if he is satisfied with the procedure adopted by the Director of Public Prosecutions for the consideration of cases involving obscene publications following the introduction of new and amended Prosecution of Offences Regulations on 1 January.

The Attorney-General

In the two years up to the introduction of the new regulations the number of cases of ob scene exhibitions or publications submitted to the Director had more than doubled and the rate at which new cases are received is still increasing. It is therefore becoming increasingly difficult for the Director's staff to process all these cases efficiently despite the simplified procedure which the amendment to the Regulations made possible.

The majority of these cases are dealt with by way of forfeiture proceedings only and not criminal proceedings. After consultation with the Director I therefore agreed with him that he might inform chief officers of police that they need no longer ordinarily submit to the Director reports on cases in which they contemplate the institution of forfeiture proceedings only.

However, to preserve uniformity in the application of penal sanctions by statute and at common law the Director will still require all cases where such proceedings are contemplated to be submitted to him, including cases of conspiracy.

In addition I have asked the Director to retain for his consideration all cases which may require to be looked at in the light of undertakings which previous Law Officers have given over the years to the House. These undertakings were that:

  1. (a) in any case involving a book, film, picture or other article which is the work of—or is published, or kept for publication for gain—a reputable person if at any stage it appears likely that forfeiture proceedings will be contested on the ground that the article is not obscene or that a defence of "public good" will be raised, an opportunity will ordinarily be given to allow the case to be put before a jury;
  2. (b) in any case in which a publisher seeks to intervene in forfeiture proceedings brought against another person with a view to the article becoming the subject of a section 2 prosecution so that the publisher can have the matter tried by a jury, an opportunity will ordinarily be given for this;
  3. (c) an offence of conspiracy to corrupt public morals or outrage public decency will not be charged so as to circumvent the provisions of the Obscene Publications Act permitting the defence of "public good".

The Director has already written to chief officers of police explaining this new procedure, which is in accordance with and does not require any amendment to the 1978 regulations. I have every hope that it will do much to relieve the pressure of work both on the Director's staff and police officers. At the same time the continuity of the uniformity of approach to the prosecution of criminal offences involving obscene publications and the force of the undertakings given to the House by Law Officers is fully assured.