Charlie Brooker isn’t just there for the nasty things in life. He can be educational too: if it weren’t for his column, I wouldn’t know about the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951, under which psychics can be jailed.
Unfortunately there’s a flaw in the law, which is presumably why only five or six people have been prosecuted under it: you need to prove that there was an intent to deceive for financial gain. So if you genuinely believe that dead people talk to you, or can at least lie convincingly about it in court, you can get off scot-free.
The good news? The act’s being killed and brought under new consumer protection law from April 2008. As Downing Street says (in response to a petition demanding the FMA be updated):
Although the average consumer would arguably not be misled by a person who claims he is able to contact the dead, such conduct would still be unfair under the CPRs if it deceives the average member of (i) the group to which it is directed, or (ii) a clearly identifiable group of consumers who are particularly vulnerable to this type of practice.
Unlike the Act, there is no requirement in the CPRs to prove an “intent to deceive”. This means that where practices are aimed at vulnerable consumers or average members of particular groups, it should be easier to take action against fraudulent mediums than under the Act.
The CPRs will be enforced by both civil (injunctive) action and criminal sanctions.
Going after individual psychics is probably overkill, but what about the pushers – the psychic TV networks, the magazine publishers, the premium rate phone operators and their ilk? If these businesses made their money by broadcasting video of the ill, the grieving and the desperate being happy slapped they’d be in the dock before you could finish calling them bastards. But riffling through the wallets of the ill, the grieving and the desperate? Well, that’s just dandy.
Come on, let’s put the lot of ’em in prison. If they’re really psychic they can get their dead pals to break them out again.