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The Obscene Articles Tribunal

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THE OBSCENE ARTICLES TRIBUNAL

The Obscene Articles Tribunal, consisting of a Presiding Magistrate and two or more adjudicators, carries out two main tasks with respect to articles and matter - classification and determination. .

It classifies articles submitted by such parties as authors, printers, manufacturers, publishers, importers, distributors, copyright owners or any person who commissions the design, production or publication of the articles concerned. The Secretary for Justice or any authorized public officer may also submit any article for classification.

Additionally a court or magistrate may, in the course of proceedings, refer an article or matter to the Tribunal, asking it to determine whether:

  • the article is obscene or indecent;
  • the matter is indecent; or
  • the publication of the article or the public display of the matter is intended for the public good.

Films and broadcasting material, etc are not classified by the Tribunal, but are dealt with under the Film Censorship Ordinance and the Broadcasting Ordinance respectively.

Under the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance, the Tribunal's power to classify articles effectively provides society with an effective means of interpreting in practice the notions of obscenity and indecency. Indecency is here deemed to include violence, depravity and repulsiveness.

In arriving at the determination and classification of an article, the Tribunal is called upon by law to take account of:

  • the standards of morality, decency, language or behaviour and propriety that are generally accepted by reasonable members of the community;
  • the dominant overall effect of an article or matter;
  • the persons, classes of persons, or age groups intended or likely to be targeted by an article's publication;
  • in the case of matter publicly displayed, the location of such display and the persons, classes of persons, or age groups likely to view it; and
  • whether the article or matter has an honest purpose or whether instead it seeks to disguise unacceptable material.

The Tribunal can classify an article as follows:

  • Class I – neither obscene nor indecent;
  • Class II – indecent; or
  • Class III – obscene.

The Tribunal may impose conditions or restrictions relating to the publication of a Class II article. Class III articles are prohibited from being published.

 

Procedures

Classification

Classification of articles is conducted in private and without the applicant or any other person in attendance. The Tribunal makes an interim classification within 5 days of the article's being submitted. It shall also identify the part of the article causing the obscenity or indecency or may give guidance to the applicant but it is not required to give any reasons for any interim classification. The Presiding Magistrate may extend that period by a further period of not more than 5 days.

A classification may be reconsidered by the Tribunal itself or at the request of the person submitting the article in question. The classification may be altered or confirmed. An interim classification must be reviewed if an application for review is made.

When the Tribunal hears reviews or reconsiders a classification, the Presiding Magistrate is joined by four or more adjudicators in a full public hearing.

A prescribed fee has to be paid for the classification, review or reconsideration of articles.

A party may appeal on a point of law to the Court of First Instance of the High Court against a decision of the Tribunal within 14 days of that decision.

 

Determination

Determination of articles referred by a court or a magistrate is conducted in open court, and the fixing of a hearing date for the case will in general be completed within 21 days from its transfer. The Tribunal identifies the part(s) of the article which gives rise to obscenity or indecency.

A party may appeal on a point of law to the Court of First Instance against a decision of the Tribunal within 14 days of that decision.

 

Penalties

Anyone who publishes, possesses or imports for the purpose of publication a Class III article is liable to a fine of $1 million and to imprisonment for 3 years. Anyone who publishes an indecent article to a juvenile is liable to a fine of $400,000 and to imprisonment for 12 months on first conviction and $800,000 and imprisonment for 12 months for a second or subsequent conviction.

Anyone who fails to observe conditions or restrictions on publishing Class II articles is liable to a fine of $400,000 and imprisonment for 12 months on first conviction and to a fine of $800,000 and imprisonment for 12 months on a second or subsequent conviction.

 

Adjudicators

Under the Control of Obscene and Indecent Articles Ordinance, eligible persons are appointed by the Chief Justice to the panel of adjudicators. They serve for 3 years and are eligible for re-appointment. They may resign by giving notice to the Chief Justice, who may also remove an adjudicator from the panel if the adjudicator:

  • ceases to be ordinarily resident in Hong Kong;
  • is convicted of any offence;
  • is declared a bankrupt; or
  • neglects or is unable to perform his/her duty in the opinion of the Chief Justice.

To ensure that the standards used by the Tribunal are representative and as close to social norms as possible, eligible persons from all walks of life and sectors of society and come from different age groups, professions and occupations can apply to be adjudicators. Anyone wishing to become an adjudicator should contact the Communications and Technology Branch of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau at 2189 2222 or visit their relevant website at http://www.cedb.gov.hk/ctb/eng/film/oat.htm.

 

Repository

All articles classified by the Tribunal are kept in a repository. Members of the public can apply to the Tribunal to search the repository. If the application is granted, there is also a payment of the prescribed fee of $420 per search.

 

No Legal Advice

  • In order to maintain the impartial role of the Judiciary, our staff will not provide any legal advice or offer any comment on the conduct or merits of specific court cases and proceedings.
  • Please note that you should consult a legal practitioner or approach free legal advisory bodies for assistance if you require legal advice or assistance.

How to contact us?

Business Hours

Tribunal Registry and Accounts Office

Monday to Friday 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
  2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Saturday 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon
(Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays)

 

What are the arrangements of the Obscene Articles Tribunal in case of bad weather?

Please refer to Typhoon and Rainstorm Warning Arrangements in the Judiciary website or radio/ television announcements of the same.

 

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