Censorship laws among toughest in the world

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BRITAIN already has some of the toughest censorship rules for films and videos in the world.

Nevertheless, Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, is expected to ask the British Board of Film and Video Classification to tighten up its certificates following growing concern about the influence of on- screen violence. Next month he will receive the board's report on the subject.

'Video nasties', such as I Spit on Your Grave and Driller Killer, were outlawed in 1984 with fines of up to pounds 20,000 for supplying them. The Video Recordings Act made it an offence to supply or possess a video recording containing material that had not received an official classification.

There are stricter guidelines surrounding videos than films because they are considered to be more likely to be watched by children.

The categories are: U - suitable for all; UC - particularly suitable for children (video only); PG - parental guidance; 12 - suitable only for 12 years and over; 15; 18; and R18 - restricted (to be shown only in licensed cinema clubs (films) or supplied in licensed sex shops (video) to persons of not less than 18).

The amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill tabled by the Liberal Democrat MP David Alton, which will be debated after Easter, aims to introduce a new category of 'Unsuitable for Home Consumption', which would make films containing 'gratuitous violence' illegal.

Mr Howard yesterday signalled that he would not support the amendment, arguing that the board already had powers to ban films unsuitable for home viewing. He said: 'To ban altogether a video which may be inappropriate for viewing by children when most of the households in this country do not contain children would be an extreme step.'

Violent videos have been linked with a number of recent murders, most notoriously in the case of the two-year-old, James Bulger. Mr Justice Morland, who presided over the trial of the two 11-year-old killers, said he suspected 'exposure to violent video films may in part be an explanation for this terrible crime'.

Despite the police insistence after the trial that there was no evidence that the boys had watch violent videos, censorship supporters have used this case as a key example of the influence of the screen.

The classification board's director, James Ferman, has said there is no decisive proof that films cause violence: 'Social science is an inexact discipline and human behaviour is too multi-factorial. It's nature, nurture; it's what happened to us this morning; it's how much we've had to drink.'