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Guidelines for Handling Illegal Material

1. Introduction

These guidelines are intended to help and protect computer support staff who may be requested to respond to reports of the presence of illegal images (whether indecent images of children or extreme pornographic images) on computers at the University. The Protection of Children Act 1978 and subsequent legislation makes the possession, making or publishing of indecent images of children a serious criminal offence; the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 introduces a similar crime of possession of extreme pornographic images. Images of either type must be reported to the police as soon as possible, with the minimum interference, for them to investigate. However, there may occasionally be an urgent requirement to confirm an allegation, to secure evidence or to remove material from view, and in these cases authorised site staff may be best placed to do the minimum necessary to achieve this. Any such action, and any information obtained as a result, must be handled in strict confidence both to protect the evidence and those persons involved: malicious allegations have sometimes been made against innocent parties.

Viewing or handling indecent images of children will normally be a serious criminal offence. However, section 46 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 provides a limited defence for those who can prove that they needed to do so for the purposes of the prevention, detection or investigation of crime. The CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) and ACPO (the Association of Chief Police Officers) have agreed an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) setting out the factors they will consider when deciding whether this defence may be available in any specific case.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 is available at: http://www.legislation.hmso.gov.uk/acts/acts2003/20030042.htm

The MoU is available at: http://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/docs/mousexoffences.pdf

Sections 63 and 68 and Schedule 14 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 provide a similar "good reason" defence to possession of extreme pornographic images and it is expected that this would be subject to similar tests.

The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 is available at: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2008/ukpga_20080004_en_1

Staff who have been properly authorised and instructed to respond to reports of the presence of illegal images and who satisfy all the tests should not have to fear that they will be prosecuted. The MoU recommends that organisations adopt written procedures for such activities to protect their staff.

These guidelines set out a procedure that is believed to be in accordance with the ACPO/CPS Memorandum of Understanding. Following this procedure should therefore give authorised staff some protection against prosecution by demonstrating that they have acted reasonably and professionally (MoU principle 5).

Up: Contents Next: 2. Principles for Dealing with Illegal Material

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