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Law, morality and disgust: the regulation of “extreme pornography” in England and Wales

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Publication details

JournalSocial & Legal Studies
DatePublished - 2010
Issue number2
Number of pages17
Pages (from-to)147-163
Original languageEnglish


The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 introduced the new offence of ‘Possession of extreme pornographic images’ (section 63) into English law. One aspect of the framework that section 63 uses to determine which images will fall within its scope is explicitly concerned with questions of morality: images must be deemed ‘grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character’. This article examines some of the justifications for, objections to, and implications of the inclusion of the moral component of section 63 and situates these arguments within long-standing debates about the relationship between law, sexuality and morality. Returning to the influential but much critiqued work of Patrick Devlin, it argues that the framework that section 63 offers for the moral evaluation of extreme images is an imperfect but appropriate method for determining the level of social toleration for the private possession of violent pornographic imagery. After considering some of the arguments made against the moral framework, and in favour of a harm-based approach, it concludes by arguing that the morality component offers both a practical way of evaluating images in relation to contemporary standards of obscenity and provides a protective mechanism for limiting the scope of the law’s application.

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