Leading article: An intrusive and unnecessary law

Tuesday 30 December 2008 01:00

Who wants to see pictures on the internet of someone having sex with a corpse? Nobody, or one hopes, precious few of us. Likewise, images of bestiality. Both are to be outlawed in less tha a month, when Section 63 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 takes force.

All well and good. Well, no, actually, or at least not entirely. Past experience has tended to vindicate the saying that hard cases make bad law, and it is worth remembering in connection with this legislation that a prime reason for its adoption was the campaign waged by Liz Longhurst, the mother whose daughter was killed by a man who claimed he was addicted to violent pornography.

The usual problems with such legislation are that in the first place the law is adopted in a mad hurry and is thus vague and unclear and, second, a set of general principles is wrongly deduced from truly exceptional circumstances.

With this law, the evidence of haste and a knee-jerk response to a specific event can be seen from the imprecise wording. As a result, the viewing of images of a number of practices that are legal, and which most people would consider acceptable if not exactly desirable behaviour between consenting adults, will become as illegal as viewing images of bestiality and necrophilia. All such viewers will have the same potential to be caught under the same dragnet.

Regrettably, the Government will probably get away with it. In these "on-message" days, no politician wants to be seen as the spokesperson for sexual freaks. A reputation for a partiality to bondage is not the way to boost the career of a junior minister or rising backbencher. And so a few more of our civil liberties are done away with – and the opportunities for police surveillance increased.

Ministers may even think they are on to a winner, by giving unpopular Sixties-style liberals a good drubbing – and a good dose of New Labour Puritanism at the same time. Well, perhaps so. It's also possible that the Government's obsession with regulating every aspect of peoples lives will rebound on it. We can only hope so, for the Government should beware of poking its long nose into people's sex lives, and when it is far from clear that such intervention is necessary.

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