The GRA and Games in the UK

Information for coders

The Video Standards Council is responsible for the age rating of video games for supply in the UK and other countries in accordance with the rules and procedures of the Pan-European Game Information ('PEGI') system. In respect of video games supplied in the UK, the VSC (trading as the Games Rating Authority) is also responsible for the granting of classification certificates for video games pursuant to the Video Recordings Act 1984 (as amended) ('VRA').

Refusal of a UK certificate

 
The GRA (in its position as the UK designated body) has in certain circumstances the legal right to refuse to grant a UK age rating certificate for any video game notwithstanding that an age rating is given under the PEGI system for other PEGI participating countries. Any such refusal by the GRA would mean that any such game is effectively 'banned' from legal supply in the UK.

The circumstances under which the GRA has such right to 'ban' are very restricted and are confined to rights given under the law and certain statutes and in particular the provisions of the Video Recordings Act (as amended). The GRA does not have the right to 'ban' simply because a video game may be potentially offensive or unacceptable to certain sectors of UK society. If the GRA endeavored to 'ban' any game in circumstances which were not authorised under the law then it would probably be liable to legal action.

The procedure for identifying any video game which may be considered for banning is set out in the section dealing with Controversial Content whereby all games containing such content are referred to the Games Rating Manager.

In turn the Games rating Manager shall consider any such game together with the Director of Operations and/or the Director General. The GRA may take independent external legal advice on any such matter.
 
In circumstances where any such game is considered for 'banning' pursuant to the provisions of the Video Recordings Act (as amended) then the game shall be referred to the Expert Advisory Panel who shall give advice as to all matters which must be taken into account in reaching a final decision.
 
If after due consideration the opinion is that a game should be refused a UK certificate then the matter shall then be referred to the GRA Chair and Vice-Chairs for a final decision together with the advice of the Expert Advisory Panel (if applicable).
 
Before reaching a final decision the GRA Chair and Vice-Chairs may require the GRA executive to take such further action or provide such further information as they consider necessary.
 
In the event that a final decision is made not to 'ban' any game concerned then the game shall be given an age rating in accordance with normal procedures.
 
In the event that a decision is made that a game should be 'banned' then this shall be communicated to the publisher or other party submitting the game together with the reasons for the 'ban' and details as to how any such decision can be appealed which are set out in The APPEALS PROCESS section.
 
In the event that a decision is appealed the matter shall then be referred to the Chair of the Appeals Panel and from that point onwards the appeal shall be under the full control and direction of the Chair of the Appeals Panel. The GRA executive shall do all such things and provide such information as the Chair of the Appeals Panel shall request.
 

Appeals Process

The Right of Appeal

The Video Standards Council is responsible for the age rating of video games for supply in the UK and other countries in accordance with the rules and procedures of the Pan-European Game Information ('PEGI') system. As regards video games for supply in the UK the VSC (trading as the Games Rating Authority) is also responsible for the granting of classification certificates for video games pursuant to the Video Recordings Act 1984 (as amended) ('VRA').

Any person who shall disagree with a decision made by the GRA that a video game is not suitable for a classification certificate to be issued in respect of it shall have a right of appeal against any such decision. Any such appeal shall be made to the GRA Games Appeals Panel ('GAP') which shall be an independent body set up to deal with any such appeals.

The GAP shall have a Chair and shall be made up of no more than 6 other independent persons deemed suitable as members of the GAP. The Secretary of the GAP may be an officer of the GRA.
Basis of appointment

Although the appointments of members of the Appeals Panel are not subject to the Nolan Rules and do not come within the remit of the Commissioner for Public Appointments they will be made using a process which takes into account the Commissioner’s Code of Practice as best practice. In so doing such appointments procedure shall observe the 7 principles of public life which are selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.

For each appointment there shall be a comprehensive job description and a fair and transparent recruitment procedure which is compatible with the Commissioner’s Code of Practice.

If at any time there shall be any doubt as to whether the procedure for making such appointments may be at variance with the Commissioner’s Code of Practice then the Code of Practice shall take precedence.


Term of Office

The Chair of the Appeals Panel shall be appointed by the Chair and Vice-Chairs of the VSC. Such appointment shall be for an initial period of 3 years and upon expiry of the initial period of 3 years the person appointed may be appointed for a further period of 3 years. Upon expiry of the second period of appointment the person appointed may be appointed for a further third period of 3 years.  No person may be appointed for more than 3 periods.
 
Other members of the Appeals Panel shall be appointed by the Chair of the Appeals Panel together with the Chair and Vice-Chairs of the VSC. There shall be a maximum of 6 other members of the Appeals Panel.  
 
Such other members shall be appointed for an initial period of 3 years.  At the end of the first period these members may be re-appointed for a further 3 year period.  At the expiration of this second period these members may be re-appointed for a third 3 year period.  No member may be appointed for more than 3 periods.
 
The absolute maximum that the Chair of the Appeals Panel or any member of the Appeals Panel may remain in post is 9 years.  No person may be appointed as Chair of the Appeals Panel if they have at any time already served 9 years as a member of the panel.  No person may be appointed as a member of the Appeals Panel if they have at any time already served 9 years as Chair of the Appeals Panel.
 
Although not required, all appointments to the post of Chair of the Appeals Panel and to the post of Member of the Appeals Panel will be carried out within the spirit of the Nolan principles.

Chair

In the appointment of the Chair of the Appeals Panel the Chair and Vice-Chairs of the VSC shall be free to specify such requirements and factors as they reasonably consider appropriate for the position concerned. Such requirements and factors may include the following:

  • A proven ability to objectively analyse a given set of facts in order to reach a fair, equitable and legal conclusion.
  •  Experience in dealing with and observing the rules and regulations applicable to legal proceedings, industrial tribunals, complaints panels, complaints boards, tribunals, review panels or any other body of a similar nature.
  • The person may have held or hold a senior legal position and have proven experience in the administration of justice by way of a High Court of the United Kingdom and with the process of arriving at judicial conclusions.


Members of the Games Rating Authority Appeals Panel

In appointing the members of the Appeals Panel the Chair of the Appeals panel together with the Chair and Vice-Chairs of the VSC shall use all reasonable endeavours to select persons representing a broad spread of opinion and experience and be respected in their field. The persons appointed may be representative of those who have held responsible positions in the following sectors of society:

  •     Child and family welfare, including social services
  •     General education.
  •     Higher education and academia
  •     Law enforcement.
  •     The medical profession.
  •     The creative industries and media.

Notice of Appeal

In the event that the GRA shall decide that any video game is not suitable for a classification certificate it shall communicate such decision (with reasons) by notice in writing (which shall include communication by way of email) to the person applying for any such classification certificate. The person applying for any such classification certificate (‘Appellant’) shall have 30 days from the date of such notice in writing to give notice in writing (which shall include communication by way of email) of the intention to appeal against such decision. Such notice of appeal shall be addressed to
 
The Secretary of the GAP and shall:

  •     Set out the name and address of the Appellant.
  •     Identify the decision which the Appellant wishes to appeal against.
  •     Contain a concise statement of the grounds of the appeal.
  •     Identify any documents or evidence upon which the Appellant wishes to rely.
  •     Identify any point of law or fact upon which the Appellant wishes to rely.
  •     Contain an agreement to pay the appeal fee and the expenses of the GRA (up to a maximum of FIVE THOUSAND POUNDS) in the event that the Appeals Panel decides that the appeal is frivolous or vexatious and that the Appellant should pay such expenses. An appeal may be considered "frivolous" if the Appeals Panel considers there is little prospect that it can ever succeed and it is lacking in substance or seriousness. An appeal may be considered “vexatious" if the Appeals Panel considers it is instituted maliciously or based on improper motives intended to harass or annoy.


The Appeal Fee

The appeal fee shall be in the sum of UK£2,500.00 (TWO THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED UK POUNDS) plus value added tax (if applicable). Upon receipt of any notice of appeal an invoice for the appeal fee shall be sent to the Appellant. No further action and no time limits shall commence until the appeal fee is paid.


Documents


Reply from the GRA

Within 14 days of the date of any notice of appeal or payment of the appeal fee (whichever is the later) the GRA shall send to the Secretary of the GAP:

A copy of the notice in writing setting out its decision not to grant a classification certificate.

Details of any representations that the GRA wishes to make.

Copies of any documents upon which the GRA wishes to rely.

The Secretary of the GAP shall send details of any reply received from the GRA to the Appellant.
 
Reply from the Appellant

Within 14 days of receipt by the Appellant of the details of any reply received from the GRA the Appellant shall give notice to the Secretary of the GAP of any further representations or documents upon which the Appellant wishes to rely.

Service of Documents
 
The Secretary of the GAP shall upon receipt of any notice or document from any party pursuant to these provisions forthwith send a copy thereof to the other party. Such notice or document may be sent by email or by recorded delivery post.


Interested Parties


The GAP may at its discretion accept for consideration any written representations, documents or other material submitted to it by any person other than the Appellant who appears to the GAP to have an interest in the outcome or determination of an appeal.

If the GAP accepts any such written representations, documents or other material it shall forthwith send copies thereof to the parties to the appeal to enable each such party to consider whether to request that person to attend as a witness or to rely upon such written representations, documents or other material without any need to attend as a witness.


Pre-appeal Procedures

The GAP may at its discretion make such directions as to the conduct of any appeal as it shall consider to be in the interests of justice including (but not by way of limitation) the dispensing of any steps required or authorised by these provisions, directing that any steps be taken other than as specified in these provisions or extending the time limits set out in these provisions.

The failure by any party to comply with any procedural requirement in these provisions may not invalidate any decision of the GAP and the GAP shall if it considers that any party has been prejudiced take such steps as it considers fit to cure any such irregularity before deciding any appeal provided that the GAP shall ensure that any such irregularity (or steps taken to cure any such irregularity) does not leave any appeal decision open to judicial review or other legal challenge.

The GAP shall fix the date, time and place of the hearing of an appeal and shall give each party at least 14 days in writing (including communication by way of email) of such details.
The Appeals Panel

The Chair of the GAP shall preside over and be chair of all appeal hearings of the GAP and shall for each hearing of the GAP appoint from members of the GAP no less than 2 other members of the GAP to hear and decide each appeal.

The Chair of each Appeals Panel shall exercise the jurisdiction of the Appeals Panel in all procedural matters prior to a hearing.

In the absence of any members of an Appeals Panel the hearing may proceed (provided that the Appeals Panel is not reduced to less than 3 persons). In the absence of the Chair of an Appeals Panel the remaining members may appoint another of their number to act as Chair.

No hearing shall proceed in the event that an Appeals Panel is reduced to less than 3 members and in such event the hearing shall be adjourned to a date fixed by the Chair of the GAP.


The Hearing

The Appeals Panel shall conduct the hearing in such a manner as it considers suitable for the clarification of the issues before it and conducive to the just handling of proceedings. It shall be bound by any enactment or rule of law relating to the admissibility of evidence before the Courts of Law except that in exceptional circumstances it may allow other evidence where this serves the interests of justice.

A party to an appeal may make an opening statement, give evidence, call witnesses, cross-examine any witness called by the other party and address the Appeals Panel.

At any hearing a party may appear in person or may be represented by any other person whom such party wishes to appoint.

If any party shall fail to appear or be represented at the time and place fixed for the hearing of an appeal the Appeals Panel may as it shall think fit either dispose of the appeal in the absence of that party or adjourn the hearing to a later date.

Any hearing of an appeal shall take place in public unless it shall appear to the Appeals Panel that a private hearing either as a whole or in part is in the circumstances desirable.

The Appeals Panel may decide (but only with the written consent of the Appellant) to dispense with the requirement to conduct a formal hearing and deal with an appeal upon the basis of the documentation and pleadings of the parties concerned.
Decisions of the Appeals Panel

In the exercise of its jurisdiction the Appeals Panel may after hearing an appeal or making a determination on the papers i) uphold the decision of the GRA or ii) (as the case may be) indicate that the decision of the GRA be varied in accordance with the decision of the Appeals Panel or iii) submit the case to the GRA to re-take its decision after it has fulfilled any procedural requirements set down by the Appeals Panel or iv) consider the appeal to have been frivolous or vexatious and award costs as permitted in the notice of appeal.

The decision of the Appeals panel shall be in writing signed by the Chair and shall contain the reasons for the decision and a copy of that decision shall be sent to each party to the appeal within 21 days of the final day of the hearing.

The Appeals Panel may as a preliminary to the sending of a written decision give an oral decision without giving reasons.

If the members of the Appeals panel are unable to reach a unanimous decision the decision shall be taken by the votes of the majority and in the event of an equality of votes the Chair shall have a second and casting vote.


Costs

The Appeals Panel may if the appeal is successful refund to the Appellant the whole of the appeal fee and may in any other circumstances refund all or any part of the appeal fee.

If it appears to the Appeals Panel that an appeal is frivolous or vexatious it may prior to the hearing warn the Appellant that there is a risk of the Appellant being ordered to pay the expenses of the GRA and if notwithstanding such warning the Appellant proceeds with the appeal the Appeals Panel may order the Appellant to pay the expenses of the GRA connected with the appeal.

Save as otherwise mentioned neither party to any appeal shall be entitled to be reimbursed for any costs incurred in connection with an appeal.

Controversial content

The reason for identifying controversial content arises because the GRA has a duty to identify content which may contravene UK law, which may otherwise result in a video game being 'banned' from supply in the UK or may result in the video game being referred to the British Board of Film Classification for legal classification in the 18R category (pornography).

It is important that Games Examiners take this issue very seriously. If they have any doubts whatsoever as to whether the content of any game is controversial content they must refer it to the Games Rating Manager. The GRA encourages its Games Examiners to err on the side of caution so far as this issue is concerned.

The following is a list of topics and issues that will or may be considered as controversial content:
  • Sexual content: This means all aspects of human sexual activity (intercourse, sexual foreplay, homosexual and lesbian sexual activity, masturbation), any activity involving genitals or anus, sexual fetish material (including bondage or sadomasochistic activity, urination or other bodily functions) and any form of sex or sexual activity without consent.
  • Extreme pornographic images: This refers to any image which is pornographic and grossly offensive, disgusting or otherwise of an obscene nature which features an apparently real person, and which portrays, in an explicit and realistic way, an act which threatens the person's life, or is likely to result, in serious injury to a person's anus, breasts or genitals or involves sexual interference with a human corpse or involves bestiality.
  • Protection of children: This refers to indecent images (still or moving) of children. It includes photographs or film footage and pseudo photographs or film footage (graphics, drawn or computer generated images). For these purposes a child is defined as a person who is or could be under the age of 18.
  • Cruelty to animals: This refers to depictions (usually real film footage) of a staged animal fight (e.g. dog fight, cock fight) or other depictions (usually real film footage) showing the infliction of pain or injury to an animal.
  • Racial or sexual hatred: This refers to content which is threatening, abusive or insulting where the intention is to stir up racial hatred or hatred on the grounds of sexual orientation.
  • Private sexual recordings: This refers to real film footage showing a recording of a private act (usually sexual) where the intention of the recording is for the sexual gratification of a third party and the recording has not been consented to by the person filmed.
  • Obscene material: The content of a game is obscene if it tends to deprave or corrupt the viewer (make morally bad). It is not possible to define what this covers except to say that it is probably covered by other items listed as controversial content.Unlawful material: Again it is not possible to define what this covers but examples would be content which appears to be real film footage of a person being killed, seriously harmed or raped.
  • Tobacco advertising: This does not cover depictions of tobacco advertising which are incidental to game play. If however the advertisement becomes a prominent feature then this may become a matter of concern. If there is a standalone tobacco advertisement then this could be illegal. It should be remembered that the tobacco product must be a real product and not a fantasy product.
  • Harmful content: This is the most difficult to define and identify in the context of a video game and is best approached by giving guidance of the topics that may have to be taken into account. These topics include:
    • Criminal behavior
    • Illegal drugs
    • Violent behavior or incidents
    • Horrific behavior or incidents
    • Human sexual behavior
When considering 'harm' this should include not only harm to the viewer but also harm to anyone else arising from the viewer's behavior. In considering 'harm' this should not be restricted to children and young persons only but also any other vulnerable person. Potential harm should also not be restricted to physical harm but should be extended to any moral harm that may be caused by:
  • Desensitising the viewer to the effects of violence
  • Degrading a viewer's sense of empathy
  • Encouraging a dehumanised view of others
  • Suppressing pro-social attitudes
  • Encouraging anti-social attitudes
  • Reinforcing unhealthy fantasies
  • Eroding a sense of moral responsibility
In regard to children potential harm should also be extended to:
  • Retarding social and moral development
  • Distorting a viewer's sense of right and wrong
  • Limiting the viewer's capacity for compassion
In essence the identification of potential harm requires a legal/clinical decision and Games Examiners will not be required to make any final decision. They should however be aware of this overall issue and bring any matter that they believe may arise from it to the attention of the Games Rating Manager.
 

Video footage in UK games

Video footage which is not an integral part of a video game but is however contained on the same disc (or other electronic device) as the game will be identified as such. Video footage will be treated as being an integral part of the game if it comprises an introduction or conclusion to the game, a linking scene between different levels of the game or otherwise drives the narrative of the game forward.

The GRA will enter into an arrangement with the BBFC to ensure that all video footage which is not an integral part of a game either has been or is referred to them for a determination. The GRA will have all due and proper regard to any such BBFC determination in reaching any decision as to the PEGI rating to be given to any such game (including the non-integral video footage).

Contact GRA

Address:

Suite 4A
Salar House
61 Campfield Road
St Albans
Hertfordshire
AL1 5HT
UK

Phone:

+44(0)2037 718 543

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Registered Office: Suite 4A, Salar House, 61 Campfield Road, St Albans, Hertfordshire, AL1 5HT

The Video Standards Council is a Limited Company registered in the UK No. 2402805

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Telephone: 02037 718 543

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