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
- 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
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.
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 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.
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.
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 Commerce and Economic Development Bureau
at 3655 5413 or visit their relevant website at https://www.cedb.gov.hk/en/policies/control-of-obscene-and-indecent-articles.html .
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.
Tribunal Registry and Accounts Office
|Monday to Friday
||8:45 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
||2:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
(Closed on Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays)