Obscene Publications Act 1857

Obscene Publications Act 1857

UK Legislation
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Obscene Publications Act 1857

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The Obscene Publications Act 1857 (20 & 21 Vict. c.83), also known as Lord Campbell's Act or Campbell's Act, was a major piece of obscenity legislation in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. For the first time, it made the sale of obscene material a statutory offence, giving the courts power to seize and destroy offending material.


Prior to this Act, whilst the "exposure for sale" of "obscene books and prints" had been made illegal in law,Originally by the Vagrancy Act 1824; subsequently extended by the Vagrancy Act 1838, the Metropolitan Police Act 1839 and the Town Police Clauses Act 1847 the publication of obscene material was treated as a common law misdemeanourFrom the precedent set by R. v. Curl (1729) following the publication of Venus in the Cloister and effectively prosecuting authors and publishers was difficult even in cases where the material was clearly intended as pornography.

The origins of the Act itself were in a trial for the sale of pornography presided over by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Campbell, at the same time as a debate in the House of Lords over a bill aiming to restrict the sale of poisons. Campbell was taken by the analogy between the two situations, famously referring to the London pornography trade as "a sale of poison more deadly than prussic acid, strychnine or arsenic",Perhaps the earliest known appearance of this ever-popular...
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