In our peculiarly English way, we have attempted to suppress sex shops by creating a system of regulation that makes them instantly identifiable; the grey shop front with lurid letters "SEX SHOP", and the unspeakable things lurking within.
If that little paragraph doesn't boost my Google ranking, I don't know what will. And if you're looking for titillation, so to speak, I suggest you look elsewhere...here lies only a discussion about technical regulations.
The EEC Technical Standards Directive (83/189/EEC) requires that technical regulations are "notified", i.e. that a formal letter is sent by the member state to the EU. Simple.
The Video Recordings Act 1984 regulated the sale of age-rated videos and restricted certain material to certain establishments, usually ones with no windows and grey shopfronts. That perfect tense conjugation will be important in just a minute.
The Video Recordings (Labelling) Regulations 1985 were the regulations that the Tory government of the day failed to notify. Astonishingly, no-one has noticed in the intervening 25-odd years. Until now. No notification, no enforcement, says the European Court of Justice.
So all offences under the Act and Regulations are "non-enforceable". The Parliamentary Under Secretary in charge of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), the Rt Hon Barbara Follett, yesterday wrote to Keir Starmer QC, the DPP.
She pointed out that the current EU regulation, the Technical Standards Directive 98/34/EC (thrilling, isn't it?), requires a 3 month pause when new regulations are notified. The upshot of which is that for the next three months, it's open season on uncertified porn, and no age restrictions; so fill your boots, and be sure to sell it to kids.
"In relation to past prosecutions, it is our understanding that there would be no positive obligation on the Government to re-open these; however we would welcome any comments you may have in this regard."
No obligation other than fair play, that is. Those who have been imprisoned for contravening non-existent laws may feel hard done by. Those who were fined could at least be reimbursed.
The BBC news website was covering the issue at length, as were all the usual outlets in their varying trademark tones. Despite this, the Rt Hon Ms Follett mentioned the unavoidable gap in "enforceability", and said:
"I am particularly concerned that advantage may be taken of this lacuna to flood the market with unclassified DVDs. I therefore ask you to consider carefully what reasons are given to the court in relation to any discontinuations."
Now, just a minute. This is a Parlimentary Under Secretary, asking the DPP, albeit in a roundabout way, to conceal the true reason for discontinuing proceedings. This would be misleading the court, and, to put it mildly, is an absolute disgrace. From an MP, it is beyond belief.
I am not sure which concerns me more; the attempt to cover-up the cock-up, or the fact that the DCMS thought that it was O.K. to lean on the CPS to get us to mislead the court.
There's more in the very carefully worded letter, in relation to other un-notified regulations. I've edited any references to that out, because I don't want to take the piss. I have uploaded some chunks of letter for you, though...
I apologise for the cumbersome images, I was not able to edit the PDF of the letter.
I'd be astonished if some enterprising red-top didn't get the full text online shortly. If they do, I'll link it in, but for now, I'm keeping my head ever-so-slightly below the parapet. I hope you understand.