Law: Child Abuse Images

Article on the law relating to the possession of data relating to child abuse images.

Note: The term child abuse is used here, rather than “Child Pornography”, as recommended by the IWF; as the term “pornography” understates the awful nature of this material.

Historically the possession of child abuse images was not illegal, and the only legislation was the Protection of Children Act 1978.

The PCA 1978 only covered the “taking and distribution of indecent photographs”, did not make simple “possession” an offence. The images of “children”, also only related to people under 16.

The Criminal Justice Act of 1988, created a new law of “possession”, which meant that just possession of an image was illegal for the first time in the UK.

However both the CJA and PCA “image” covered only a real image, not an image made of component parts, e.g the face of a 12 year old and the body of a 16 year old. While this scenario may appear not to need legislation, it allows for the defense of “its not a real 12 year old girl, its just a very good photo shop, and you can’t prove otherwise”, even when its a genuine image.

For this reason the the issue of “pseudo photographs” was resolved in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994.

The CJPO amended the PCA and CJA to allow for “Pseudo photographs”.

Through a series of laws the government had managed to make the possession, distribution, or creation, of any images relating to children illegal.

Through case law these laws were tightened further, and even deleted images were shown to be illegal. However there was no defence for legal possession, e.g a police officer collects data from a suspect he is in “possession” of the illegal material, if he copies(images) the hard drive for the purposes of investigation he has “created” images, if he then passes this hard drive to a colleague, then he has “distributed” the images, therefore committing a serious offence.

Other laws, like the Misuse of Drugs Act, have specific sections allowing for the lawful possession, e.g by a police officer, for handing into a police station, etc.

Therefore the government had created a series of laws and amendments, over nearly 30 years that did not provide them with exactly what they needed, nor did it really allow for modern technology. For this reason, and to cope with the change in technology, the Sexual Offences Act 2003 was written.

This new act amended a lot of law relating to rape, abuse, and child abuse images.  It created new offences, such as grooming, provided a defence to the possession of images, and decreased the age of children, for the purposes of images, from age from 16 to 18.


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