Retailers who sell and rent DVDs have been advised to continue following age-restriction guidelines despite the discovery of a legal loophole which means they cannot be prosecuted for selling Cert 18 movies to children.
A government error 25 years ago means the Video Recordings Act (VRA), which imposes age requirements on videos, DVDs and video games, was never enacted. The error took place when the then British government failed to notify the European Commission of the VRA age classification and labelling requirements.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has contacted the European Commission but due to consultation processes it will take at least three months for any trade legislation changes to be made.
Until the changes are made, retailers cannot be prosecuted for selling age-restricted DVDs to those who are under-age. Barbara Follett, parliamentary under secretary for the DCMS said that she hoped that retailers would continue to retail these products in the same way as before and remain compliant with the provisions of the VRA on a voluntary and best practice basis.
Steve Redmond, spokesman for the Entertainment Retailers Association, who represents retailers who sell DVDs said: "This is extraordinary. For 25 years retailers have been faithfully administering the system and now this happens.
"It raises real question marks over cases in which retailers have been convicted of breaking this law and it is possible some of them will wish to revisit those convictions.
"We are sure no reputable retailer will seek to exploit a situation for which the only appropriate description would seem to be 'cock-up'."
A spokeswoman for the DCMS added that any retailer who had been prosecuted under the act would not be able to overturn their convictions or seek compensation.
The Assocaition of Convenience Stores advice to all retailers that sell or rent DVDs and Video Games is that they should continue to voluntarily abide by the age restrictions until the loophole can be closed.