Time for a little bit of politics. April 2008 is a great year for sceptics in the UK. Now, does anyone know why? I’ll give you a hint – it’s in the post title. Up to this month, the UK had something called the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951 which replaced the Witchcraft Act 1735. Laws in the UK move fairly slowly. The Fraudulent Mediums Act was a wishy-washy affair but reflected the times in which it was written. It was a pretty short act and says:
1.-(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, any person who –
a) with intent to deceive purports to act as a spiritualistic medium or to exercise any powers of telepathy, clairvoyance or other similar powers, or
(b) in purporting to act as a spiritualistic medium or to exercise such powers as aforesaid, uses any fraudulent device, shall be guilty of an offence.
(2) A person shall not be convicted of an offence under the foregoing subsection unless it is proved that he acted for reward; and for the purposes of this section a person shall be deemed to act for reward if any money is paid, or other valuable thing given, in respect of what he does, whether to him or to any other person.
(3) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding (the prescribed sum) or to imprisonment for a tern not exceeding four months or to both such fine and such imprisonment, or on conviction on indictment to a fine… or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or to both such fine and such imprisonment.
(4) No proceedings for an offence under this section shall be, brought in England or Wales except by or with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
(5) Nothing in subsection (1) of this section shall apply to anything done solely for the purpose of entertainment
It’s the final part that gave mediums the biggest loophole. If you ever see an ad, or hear a medium give a public show, they will often include a sentence that explains that the whole thing is just for entertainment purposes. This means that they can give you (or a vulnerable person) the most life changing advice ever and by saying “it’s just for entertainment” they don’t have to justify or prove their claims and anything bad which happens as a result of following their advice is nothing to do with them. Between 1980 and 1995 there were 6 prosecutions under this act and 5 resulted in a conviction.
Now, many people will throw up their hands and say “what’s the problem?, it’s all just a bit of fun and if you follow their advice you just get what you deserve“. The problem is not for those people who are advised that purple is their lucky colour and they should wear it every day, that is just harmless. Unless you look ridiculous in purple. The problem is that many people who attend these events or dial the number or whatever are in a vulnerable state – their wife/husband/mother/father/child has just died and they need comfort, they’ve just been told that they have 6 months to live or, despite their fears and uncertainties, they’ve just been told they aren’t about to die. For whatever reason, they turn to various mediums who explain that the deceased (hopefully) is happy or that their missing child is alive and well and living in Wales. These people can be given false hopes or just rubbish advice, but they pay a lot of money for the privilege. Being vulnerable and needing something they aren’t getting, they may return to the psychic time and again and spend money they can’t afford. They may even make drastic and unnecessary changes to their lives. I’m sure your imagination is as good as mine and can come up with a variety of things they may do.
The point is that these people are vulnerable and need counselling, not crap advice.
The new Act will “prohibit conduct which misleads the average consumer and thereby causes, or is likely to cause him to take a transactional decision he would not have taken otherwise“. It will protect the vulnerable from themselves and from psychics. Vulnerability is described as:
infirmity (mental or physical):
credulity: This covers groups of consumers who may more readily
believe specific claims.
It is important to note that this Act has nothing whatsoever to do with religion or belief. It is to cover thise people who offer a service to a consumer for money. They now have to prove that they have delivered this service. If you are told that a medium has spoken to your dead uncle Fred, they now have to provide proof that this has happened in a Court of Law. So if you feel that a medium has conned you and you want your money back, this Act covers you.
Again, you may wonder what harm a medium can do. I urge you to go to my Links
page and check out the sites under Skeptical Links. These sites can do a far better job than I of describing the harm these people can do.
Thanks to those who raised the petition, those who signed it and those who passed this Act into Law. Thanks also go to Bad Psychics
– the site dedicated to ousting the frauds who prey on the vulnerable. A special mention goes to Jon Donni and Meercat for respectively starting the petition
and for explaining the Act