Manhunt 2 UK release in peril again

High Court puts brakes on Rockstar game once more, says appellate committee misinterpreted law when overturning original ban and must reconvene.

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LONDON--The controversy over Rockstar's Manhunt 2 is raging on in the UK, even though the game has already been granted a release in North America and many other European countries.

First, Manhunt 2 was banned in the UK by the British Board of Film Classification. Then the ban was overturned by appeal by the Video Appeals Committee. Now the appeal itself has been overturned by the High Court.

In an all-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London today, the Honourable Mr Justice Mitting sided with the BBFC's argument that the VAC (the original appellate committee) had erred when considering whether Manhunt 2 could be considered harmful to minors who viewed it. Whereas the VAC interpreted this as "actual harm," the BBFC and Mitting believed it should be taken in a broader scope of "potential harm and risk of harm." The BBFC also argued that the VAC based its decision on whether or not the game would have a "devastating effect on society," and argued that this "harm threshold" was too high.

Rockstar argued that due to the human right to expression, the game should never have been banned in the first place, and that even if Mitting found that the law had been misinterpreted, he should let the VAC's decision stand. Mitting responded by saying he did not feel qualified to make such a decision on the case, having not been involved in it since the beginning, but told the VAC that it should bear this criteria in mind when making their new decision.

During the proceedings, it also emerged that there are several stages to the decision made by the VAC in cases such as this. The first is whether the material is question is criminal (for example, containing child pornography), and Manhunt 2 was ruled to not contain anything of this nature.

The second decision is whether it will cause harm to adults, and once more, it was found that the game was not likely to do this. The third point was whether or not it was likely to be viewed by minors, and in response to that criteria, Rockstar argued that the BBFC's certification worked and that children were unlikely to have access to the game. However, the VAC ruled this was not the case because children were likely to have access.

The fourth decision was whether or not harm would be caused to minors if they viewed or played the game, and the vote was 4-3 in deciding that it would not. All members of the VAC admitted that it had been a very difficult case.

After quashing the VAC's decision, Mitting explained, "In the circumstances, it seems to me the only just method of ending this." He stipulated that the same seven members of the VAC must now reconvene and make a new decision based on the guidelines he laid down in the courtroom today. It is understood that this is likely to happen within the next two weeks, which would in theory put an end to the protracted legal drama.

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