Legal Considerations | British Board of Film Classification
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Legal Considerations

The BBFC take into account the following legal considerations when age rating a work. Full details of each can be found in the Guidelines download.

Human Rights Act 1988

Among the rights established under this Act are the right of respect for private and family life, and the right to freedom of expression. When classifying works, the BBFC will have regard to the impact of any decision on the rights of any relevant person. The Act permits such restrictions on freedom of expression as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of judiciary.

The Licensing Act 2003

Cinemas require a licence from the local authority in which they operate. The licence must include a condition requiring the admission of children (under 18) to any film to be restricted in accordance with the recommendations of the BBFC or the licensing authority.

The objectives of the Licensing Act are:

  • the prevention of crime and disorder
  • public safety
  • the prevention of public nuisance
  • the protection of children from harm.


The Video Recordings Act 1984

Video works (including films, TV programmes and video games) which are supplied on a disc, tape or any other device capable of storing data electronically must be classified by the BBFC unless they fall within the definition of an exempted work.

When considering whether to award a classification certificate to a work, or whether to classify a work at a particular category, the BBFC is required by the Act to have special regard (among the other relevant factors) to the likelihood of works being viewed in the home, and to any harm that may be caused to potential viewers or, through their behaviour, to society by the manner in which the work deals with:

  • criminal behaviour
  • illegal drugs
  • violent behaviour or incidents
  • horrific behaviour or incidents
  • human sexual activity.

In considering these issues the BBFC has in mind the possible effect not only on children but also on other vulnerable people.

The Obscene Publications Act 1959 & 1964

It is illegal to public a work which is obscene. A work is obscene if, taken as a whole, it has a tendency to deprave and corrupt (ie, make morally bad) a significant proportion of those likely to see it. However, no offence is committed if publication is justified as being for the public good on the grounds that it is in the interest of science, art, literature or leaning or other objects of general concern.

Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008

It is illegal to be in possession of an extreme pornographic image. An extreme pornographic image is one which is pornographic and grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene character, which features an apparently real person, and which portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, an act which: threatens a person's life; results, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person's anus, breast or genitals; involves sexual interference with a human corpse; or involves bestiality. Works classified by the BBFC under the Video Recordings Act are excluded from the scope of the offence.

The Protection of Children Act 1978

It is illegal to make, distribute, show or possess indecent photographs or pseudo-photographs of a child. It is also illegal to make, distribute, show or possess indecent images of children which have been derived from a photograph (for example, by tracing). A child is defined as a person under the age of 18.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003

It is illegal to expose oneself with intent to cause alarm or distress - this offence augments the common law misdemeanour of indecent exposure. The Act also prohibits a person recording the private act of another, where the intention of the recording is for the sexual gratification of himself or a third party and where the recorded party has not consented to so being filmed.

The Public Order Act 1986

It is illegal to distribute, show or play to the public a recording of visual images or sounds which are threatening, abusive or insulting if the intention is to stir up racial hatred or hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation, or if racial hatred or hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation is likely to be stirred up. It is also illegal to distribute, show or play to the public a recording of visual images or sounds which are threatening if the intention is to stir up religious hatred.

The Cinematograph Films (Animals) Act 1937

It is illegal to show any scene 'organised or directed' for purposes of the film that involves actual cruelty to animals. This Act applies to the exhibition of films in public cinemas but the BBFC also applies the same test to video works. For the purposes of this legislation and The Animal Welfare Act 2006, only vertebrates which are domesticated or otherwise under the control of man are defined as 'animals'.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006

It is illegal to supply, publish or show or possess with intent to supply a video recording of an 'animal fight' that has taken place within Great Britain since 6 April 2007.

The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002

It is illegal, in the course of a business, to publish a tobacco advertisement.

Other unlawful material

In carrying out its responsibilities, the BBFC will have regard to whether the material itself appears to be unlawful in the United Kingdom, or has arisen from the commission of an unlawful act.




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