Rather than actions, the proposed law is aimed specifically against pictures. Regardless of what is actually shown, what "appears to be" shown will determine the legality of an image. As well as necrophilia and bestiality, this includes acts which "threaten or appear to threaten a person's life" or "result in or appear to result (or be likely to result) in a serious injury to a person's anus, breasts or genitals".
Coupled with the stricture that images must be "pornographic" in order to qualify as illegal, this means that you can watch all the gruesome cop show murders you like, but if you like pornography of consensual fisting - which could cause serious injury if not done with due care - you risk a three-year jail sentence.
BBFC classification of your favourite porn may or may not help you. You are safe watching sexual violence on an 18-certificate DVD, for example the ball-busting scene in James Bond: Casino Royale. However, if "the image was extracted" - i.e. you have made a screen grab or a clip - then you could be guilty of possessing extreme pornography.
This is demonstrably ludicrous, and the Government actually admits in the notes on the CJB that it "constitutes an interference" with the European Convention of Human Rights. However, it is necessary, we are told, "for the protection of morals".
Part of this "protection of morals" is a blatant attempt to clamp down on the BDSM community. In spite of bland assurances during the consultation process that the proposals were not intended to target anyone in particular, the actual bill drops this pretence, and explicitly refers to the Spanner trial (R v. Brown and Others) as an example of activities that are illegal in themselves and will now become illegal to film or photograph.
What can be done at this stage? Well, the CJB has so far only had its first reading, which essentially means that MPs now know what's in it and can think it over before the second reading and a debate followed by a vote, which is expected in October 2007.
Although the CJB, which totals 245 pages of repressive measures on a whole raft of topics, is unlikely to be thrown out in its entirety, there is scope for the amendment or rejection of certain parts at this stage.
That makes this a particularly good time to write to your MP and express your views. Given the size of the bill, an MP who has received no letters opposing the "extreme pornography" sections is unlikely to even notice them. But an MP who has received one letter might start thinking about the issue; and an MP who has received 20 may well take the time to read the small print and realise just how unworkable this part of the legislation is.
If you need help finding your MP or constructing a letter then please visit the BACKLASH website: www.backlash-uk.org.uk - Backlash is leading the campaign against the proposed law with the full support of the Spanner Trust.
If you live in the UK please also consider signing an online petition against the law at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/extreme-images/
The Government's success with this measure so far relies on decent people seeing the words "extreme pornography" and simply thinking "well, with a name like that, of course it must be bad". Backlash and the Spanner Trust are questioning this assumption as loudly as we can; every voice helps.
WITH THANKS ...
We are extremely grateful to everyone who has provided services for the Spanner Trust this year, including:
There's a longer list of clubs and businesses that have helped us over the last five years at www.spannertrust.org/supporters.asp
WHAT IS THE SPANNER TRUST DOING?
It can be hard to believe sometimes, but it is still illegal to engage in any consensual activities for sexual pleasure in England, Wales or Northern Ireland which result in an injury which is more than "transient or trifling". (Scotland has a separate legal system where consent is generally a defence but not in all circumstances.)
The phrase "transient or trifling" has not been defined by the courts, but if your consensual activities result in bruises, cuts, welts, burns, grazes, scabs, bloodshot eyes or any other injury for sexual pleasure then you may well have broken the law.
The Spanner Trust was set up to look after the defence fund for the original defendants in the "Spanner" trial (R v. Brown and Others). Over a decade later the Trust is still working to try to change the law and also provide assistance to anyone in the UK in trouble because of their SM activities. Sadly that's a steady stream of people.
Your private consensual kinky activities can lead to you losing your job, having videos and magazines seized by HM Revenue and Customs, your home computer taken by the police, losing custody of your children and of course, arrest and threat of prosecution. And that's still happening to SM players, even in 2007.
The Spanner Trust plans to bring a UK High Court application under the Human Rights Act 1998 to allow consent as a defence where injury occurs during activities for sexual pleasure. For our challenge to succeed we need two things: claimants (people willing to put their name to the application saying that they are at risk of prosecution) and money to help pay for the costs of the case. We are working with a Senior Queen's Counsel who has advised us that if we manage to bring the case to the High Court we stand a good chance of success.
However, we need to be prepared to pay the costs of the case, if necessary, and that could be as much as £250,000.
Thank you again for all your support, it's much appreciated.
Best wishes, Derek Cohen
Spanner Trust Chairman