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1994 Criminal Justice Act

Wide-ranging legislation that also extended film and video censorship

Main image of 1994 Criminal Justice Act

A flagship of John Major's Conservative administration (1992-97), the 1994 Criminal Justice Act was a wide-ranging and hugely controversial piece of legislation, as it challenged many of the principles underlying British justice (for instance, the right of a suspect to remain silent) and gave the police sweeping new powers of arrest and seizure, including the ability to shut down illegal rave parties. These were notoriously defined as producing "sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats."

Section VII of the Act, 'Obscenity and Pornography and Videos', extended the powers of the 1978 Protection of Children Act and the 1984 Video Recordings Act. It became a criminal offence to supply doctored 'pseudo-photographs' of children, even if no indecent acts had actually been committed, and penalties for the supply of unclassified videos were increased. New clauses were added to restrict videos depicting "techniques likely to be useful in the commission of offences", while the British Board of Film Classification ("the designated authority") was given greater powers with regard to recalling films for reclassification

The most significant addition to the VRA was a clause covering potential harm "caused to potential viewers or, by their behaviour, to society" by material dealing with "criminal behaviour, illegal drugs, violent behaviour or incidents, horrific behaviour or incidents or human sexual activity".

This notion of harm was introduced into the Act as a result of the 1994 Newson Report, which alleged that violent videos were capable of causing psychological damage, especially to impressionable children. As a result, the BBFC was required to apply additional criteria when assessing films, particularly those aimed at lower age groups. Many of their more controversial decisions over the next few years would be reached only after consultation with professional psychologists.

The full text is available on the Office of Public Sector Information (OPSI) website.

Michael Brooke

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Present-day update of the Shakespeare morality play

Related Collections

Thumbnail image of 1978 Protection of Children Act1978 Protection of Children Act

Legislation governing indecent images of children on film and TV

Thumbnail image of 1984 Video Recordings Act1984 Video Recordings Act

Legislation that introduced compulsory video censorship

Thumbnail image of Content LegislationContent Legislation

Laws governing film content - not just censorship but also copyright

Thumbnail image of The Newson ReportThe Newson Report

Controversial 1994 report alleging links between video and real-life violence

Related People and Organisations

Thumbnail image of Ferman, James (1930-2002)Ferman, James (1930-2002)

Censor, Director