R (on the application of British Board of Film Classification) v Video Appeals Committee
Reference:  EWHC 203 (Admin)
Court: Administrative Division
Judge: Mitting J
Date of judgment: 24 Jan 2008
Summary: Judicial review - Classification - s.4A(1), Video Recordings Act 1984 - Refusal to classify - Test to be applied - Parliamentary comments - Whether actual harm or potential harm required - Misdirection
Instructing Solicitors: Goodman Derrick for the BBFC; Harbottle & Lewis for Rockstar
The British Board of Film Classification refused to classify a video game entitled ‘Manhunt 2’, developed by Rockstar Games Inc, describing it as depicting “unremitting violence towards humans”. Rockstar’s appeal was allowed by the Video Appeals Committee, on the basis that the game was unlikely to cause actual harm to adults or children, as required under s.4A(1) of the Video Recordings Act 1984. In arriving at its decision the VAC referred to comments made by a Home Office minister introducing the provision, to the effect that there would be some works which would have “such a devastating effect on individuals or on society” that they might be refused classification. The BBFC sought judicial review of the VAC’s decision.
Whether the VAC had misdirected itself in (1) its interpretation of s.4A(1) or (2) its reference to the Parliamentary comments.
Quashing the decision and remitting it for fresh consideration on the grounds that the VAC had misdirected itself in law:
(1) The VAC had improperly used the minister’s comments as a test to be applied. The minister had not been laying down a statutory test or even giving guidance as to the interpretation of the statute, but was merely giving an example of circumstances where the BBFC might refuse to classify a work. It was not a legal requirement that a video game should have a devastating effect on individuals or on society before it could be refused certification.
(2) S.4A(1) was directed to harm that might be caused. If Parliament had intended it to be necessary to demonstrate actual harm, then the words “that may be” could have been omitted. Where games had yet to be released, they would have to be judged on their expected impact if they were to be released. The task of both the BBFC and the VAC was to have regard to any harm that might, in the future, be caused.
The original Manhunt game, which involves rewarding players for the gruesome nature of their murders, was a source of great controversy when it was linked in media reports to a real life murder. It was therefore not entirely surprising that the sequal was refused classification by the BBFC. The test that the VAC applied in allowing the developers’ appeal was such that it would be hard to imagine any work being refused classification.
Those wishing to play the game will have to travel to the United States, where it has been passed for sale.