Sex shops will be able to stock hard-core pornographic videos after a High Court ruling on censorship yesterday.
The British Board of Film Classification had taken the unusual step of challenging its own video appeals committee, which had permitted seven "extremely explicit" videos to go on sale.
But Mr Justice Hooper ruled that the committee, which includes the writers Fay Weldon and Nina Bawden, was entitled to conclude "that the risk [of the videos] being viewed by and causing harm to children or young persons is, on present evidence, insignificant".
The Home Office quickly responded with a statement indicating that Jack Straw was considering taking prompt action. "The Home Secretary believes that the situation is unsatisfactory and will be considering carefully whether there are any effective steps which can be taken to protect children from exposure to this sexually explicit material," the statement said. "Any such changes may require legislation. We will be consulting on the options."
The board had brought the case to clarify the law before it drew up guidelines for the video industry. It challenged its own committee, which decided by a majority last August to allow appeals by the distributors Sheptonhurst Ltd and Prime Time (Shifnal) Ltd against refusals by the board to give R18 classifications to the seven videos.
The films were: Horny Catbabe, Nympho Nurse Nancy, TV Sex, Office Tart, Carnival International Version (Trailer), Wet Nurses 2 Continental Version and Miss Nude International Continental Version.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, for the board, argued that the appeal committee's view of the law was fundamentally flawed, and frustrated a statutory policy that stressed the need to protect children against harm fromexposure to pornographic videos they might come across at home.
But Mr Justice Hooper disagreed, saying the committee had carried out "a balancing exercise" and properly assessed the risk to children, and there was no error of law.
The R18 certificates, which allow the videos to be sold to adults in sex shops, are still being withheld pending the outcome of yesterday's judgment. The board was refused leave to appeal, but could still ask the Court of Appeal to consider the case.
Clive Sullivan, a consultant to Sheptonhurst Ltd, said afterwards the decision did not "unleash the floodgates".
"It does make quite clear that there are still limits to be applied," he said. "It's just perhaps that the limits are slightly different to those applied previously." He denied that the ruling relaxed the rules on pornography that children might see, but said it applied to pornography that adults were permitted to buy.
Greg Hurlston, director of Prime Time, based in Telford, Shropshire, was "delighted" the High Court had come down in favour of the board's appeals committee. He said the videos were "double X" films showing penetration but not ejaculation. There were no close-ups and it was consensual sex. The ruling did not mean European companies would now start distributing extreme hard-core porn in Britain.
A statement issued by the board said: "The board will now consider the judgment carefully." It would not rush into giving certificates to the films, as requested by the distributors, because there might be an appeal. Any application must be made within a fortnight.