Commentary: Video Recordings Act – Epic Fail

This week saw us fascinated by news that the much-loved Video Recordings Act 1984 was never officially enacted and therefore cannot be enforced.

Passed amid a moral panic over “video nasties”, the act regulates the classification of both films and games in the UK and creates an offence where a work is sold to an individual of less than the relevant classification age.

It has now been discovered that the Act is unenforceable, on the basis that the European Commission were not notified of its existence, as required by Directive 98/34. It has also emerged that the Home Office failed to spot the oversight on two subsequent occasions, in 1993 and 1994.

Until the situation is rectified (which we understand will take 3 months) it will be legal to sell and supply unclassified films and games, although numerous retailers have already pledged to continue to observe the regulations on a voluntary basis.

In celebration of the above, we thought we’d take a moment to run down (in reverse order) our three favourite things to arise out of the media storm which followed the government’s announcement.

BBFC: One thing after another

Let’s take a moment to imagine the reaction at the British Board of Film Classification.

It’s already been a rough year at the BBFC, what with the government having announced in June that PEGI will become the sole classification system for videogames and software in the UK.

How the organisation has greeted the news that a significant slice of the work it’s been doing since 1984 has been conducted without the benefit of statutory authority we can only speculate, although we like to think that there may have been a quiver of a censorious lip somewhere along the line.

The fact that the error was spotted while the government prepared to amend the VRA to reflect the new PEGI classifications presumably did little to lift the mood and it seems a fair bet that jelly and ice cream have not been on the menu at Soho Square this week.

DCMS: Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough

We are big fans of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s hurried announcement that it has received legal advice to the effect that people who have previously been found guilty under the act (1,659 of the blighters between 1995 and 2007) will be unable to seek compensation or overturn their convictions.

While we’re glad to see the DCMS fully embracing the whole “1984” spirit, the suggestion that convictions under a non-existent statute are water-tight feels a little bit undercooked to us, especially given the lack of supporting detail provided.

Of course, we won’t know for sure whether this is genuine legal advice or mere spin (heaven forbid) until someone actually challenges a conviction, but we’re definitely watching this space with interest.

Vaz: Spokesman for common sense

There could only really be one contender for top spot.

The sight of ever-vigilant friend to the games industry Keith Vaz MP riding to the rescue, and spouting common sense to boot.

“If the act has never been brought into force, prosecutions under it are void” said Mr Vaz. “You cannot prosecute someone and convict them on the basis of legislation that has never been in force”.

Wise words, we’re sure you’ll agree.

And a refreshing change of pace for a man whose most recent substantive contribution to the ongoing debate over standards of decency in games was to petition for a ban on Bully/Canis Canem Edit without (by his own admission) ever having actually played it.