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The Obscure Law Governing Importation of a Childlike Sex Doll

Importation of Indecent or Obscene Articles – a Childlike Sex Doll?

There has been a surge of people charged with importation of indecent or obscene articles, contrary to the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 and the Customs Consolidation Act 1876.

On the face of it that might seem strange. Why are people suddenly being arrested and sent to prison for an offence under a statute that is 141 years old?

A Gap in the Law?

The answer is that the Crown Prosecution Service are using the old offence to address a very modern gap in the law. The surge in cases follows a similar increase in seizures of childlike sex dolls. Border Force officers have seized 123 such objects since March 2016. This figure would increase if the number of seizures by police forces were also known.

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Childlike sex doll seized by Cheshire Constabulary

The ‘gap in the law’ arises because it is not illegal to possess a childlike sex doll.

The Crown Prosecution Service has moved to address this. In June 2017, in the ‘first case of its kind in the UK’, a man was convicted of importing an indecent object. He had purchased a doll online, it was shipped from Hong Kong but was then seized en route to him at East Midlands Airport.

VHS Fletchers are no strangers to this development having also  represented clients charged with an offence in similar circumstances.

The Law

child like sex doll solicitors adviceThe offence itself is contrary to section 50(3) Customs and Excise Management Act 1979. This states that it is an offence for a person to import any goods contrary to any prohibition, with the intention to evade that prohibition.

It is what is called an either-way offence, so can be dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. It carries a maximum sentence of seven years at the Crown Court.

Where does it say that a childlike sex doll is prohibited?

Section 42 of the Customs Consolidation Act 1876 says:

“The goods enumerated and described in the following table of prohibitions and restrictions inwards are hereby prohibited to be imported or brought into the United Kingdom.”

The ‘table of prohibition’ is as follows:

“Indecent or obscene prints, paintings, photographs, books, cards, lithographic or other engravings, or any other indecent or obscene articles.”

It is for the Prosecution to prove that the Defendant either imported the item or was concerned in its importation.

The point as to whether or not a childlike sex doll is an obscene or indecent item was challenged at Canterbury Crown Court.

In that case, lawyers for the defendant had argued the doll was not covered by the law.  His Honour Judge James dismissed the argument, saying “any right-thinking person” would find the doll obscene.  This decision may raise the interesting question of where we draw the line regarding obscenity. However, for the purposes of this specific offence (i.e. childlike sex dolls) it is difficulty to disagree with the Judge in that case.

Some further information about what constitutes an obscene article can be found here.

The prosecution has issued some guidance on the considerations prior to bringing proceedings.  These can be found here.

Sentencing Guidelines

There are no sentencing guidelines for this offence. The maximum sentence is seven years. The reported cases so far seem to be attracting sentences of around two years, although clearly each case must be judged on its individual facts.

Further Thoughts

As it stands, possession of a childlike sex doll on its own is not an offence. There must be proof of importation. If the item was manufactured or warehoused in the UK prior to purchase, the purchaser has not committed an offence.

Considering the level of press interest that this offence has now received, we might have expected Parliament to address this issue with legislation by now.  Of course, other more pressing issues are tying up the time of Parliament.

An alternative view, however, is presented by Juliet Grayson, chair of the Specialist Treatment Organization for the Prevention of Sexual Offending (StopSO). StopSO is a charity which prevents sexual offending through therapy. She has suggested that just as methadone is used to treat recovering heroin addicts, childlike sex dolls can be used to treat paedophiles

This view raises a number of questions as to how it would be managed. If it is closely monitored, assists in the rehabilitation of an offender and prevents re-offending (much like the methadone example that she gives) it must be worth consideration.

On a final note…

It occurs that while possession of such an item is not illegal, a photograph of one could be. If the doll is, for example, photographed naked it could be argued that that photograph then constitutes a ‘pseudo’ indecent image of under the Protection Act 1978.

Contact an expert criminal solicitor for advice

VHS Fletchers is one of the few solicitors’ firms in the country who has the experience of representing a client charged with this offence.

The law is complicated and the potential consequences of a prosecution severe.

As a result, if you are arrested or know that the police wish to speak to you about an offence relating to the importation of an obscene article make sure you insist on your right to free and independent legal advice.

The advantages of such early legal advice can be found here.

If you have already been interviewed or face court proceedings we can still make a real difference to the outcome of your case.  Legal aid may well be available to fund your defence at court.

 You can find your nearest office here.

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VHS Fletchers offices across the East Midlands

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