Obscenity tribunal controversy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 April, 2012, 12:00am



What's happened? The government is considering changing the way it handles obscene material. It has opened a round of public consultation. At issue is whether or not it should strip the Obscene Articles Tribunal of its duty of classifying publications. It would then need to appoint another panel to do this.


Who is the Obscene Articles Tribunal? It is a panel made up of volunteers and a magistrate. It decides on whether or not published material is indecent - meaning it should only be viewed by adults - or obscene, meaning it should be banned. Publishers can ask for a ruling before publication, saving themselves a penalty. This is its administrative function. It also rules on whether or not articles are obscene when the classification is disputed in court. This gives it a further, judiciary function. The government believes its two functions should be split.


When is the public consultation? The government will take views from members of the public until July 15.


Where is the tribunal's jurisdiction? Only in Hong Kong.


Why is this an issue? It has been criticised in legal circles because the tribunal serves both an administrative and a judicial function. So not only would it declare something to be obscene but would also rule in court if the ruling was disputed. The judiciary, the Bar Association and the Law Society say the roles should be separated. The government has put up two choices: abolish the panel, or have a separate panel. Amy Yuen Siu-man, a volunteer adjudicator for the tribunal, said both proposals were flawed. 'If an administrative institution is set up, the government has sole power to decide who it will appoint,' Yuen said. 'This raises a worry about free expression of political views.' If pre-classification were abolished and more cases end up in court 'worse-off parties might find the process much costlier than the tribunal'.