What is the law relating to indecent images of children and the internet?

Child pornography and the internet

With the explosion of internet use, there has developed a huge market for indecent images of children. Accordingly, laws have been introduced which aim to prosecute offenders and protect children.

Legislation in the UK

The legislation for England and Wales which deals with offences concerning indecent images of children are:

  • Protection of Children Act 1978 1978 (PCA 1978) – s 1
  • Criminal Justice Act 1988 (CJA 1988) – s 160

Both provisions create offences in respect of indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of a child. A pseudo-photograph means an image, whether made by computer graphics or in any other way, which appears to be a photograph.

What is a child?

A child is a person aged under 18 (s 7(6) of PCA 1978). If the age of the child photographed is not known, this is an issue for the jury to decide, without the assistance of experts. Often direct evidence will be rare so a common sense approach on the part of the jury is required.

What is indecent?

What is indecent is for the jury to decide, based on a recognised standard of proprietary. The test is objective and the circumstances in which the photograph came to be taken and motive of the taker are not relevant; it is the photograph of the child which must be indecent not the defendant’s conduct.

Offences in relation to indecent images of children

It is an offence under s 1 of PCA 1978 to:

  • take, permit to be taken, or to make any indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of a child;
  • distribute or show such indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs;
  • have in a person’s possession such indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs with a view to their being distributed or shown by themselves or others;
  • publish or cause to be published any advertisement likely to be understood as conveying that the advertiser distributes or shows such indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs or intends to do so.

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For more information on:

  • Defences
  • Legitimate reason
  • Lack of awareness
  • Unsolicited photographs
  • Marriage of the child
  • Criminal proceedings and investigations
  • Jurisdiction