British mediums marched on Downing Street last week to deliver a 10,000-name petition demanding that the government shelve plans to repeal the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951.
This act allows for the prosecution of any medium, clairvoyant or spiritualist who use trickery in attempt to deceive and make money from such a deception. However, the act recognizes and protects “genuine” mediums.
Despite extensive research into the paranormal, there is no scientific evidence to support the claims of mediums. This makes the identification of a “genuine” medium somewhat problematic. Only the most blatant examples of fraud have been prosecuted under the act. There have been six prosecutions between 1980 and 1995, five of them successful.
The Fraudulent Mediums Act was introduced by Thomas Brooks MP, himself a spiritualist, as a private member’s bill. Spiritualists lobbied extensively for the act during its passage through Parliament. It repealed the Witchcraft Act of 1735, which held all acts of divination, foretelling, communicating with spirits or casting of spells to be fraudulent and punishable by fines or imprisonment.
The Rise of Unreason in the UK
This proposed change in legislation comes at a time when the United Kingdom is seeing a rise in superstition. Fifty percent of the population reportedly believes in psychic phenomena. Psychic mailing shots netted 40 million pounds (US$80 million) last year. Internet and phone based readings are big business. A typical 40-minute consultation over the phone can cost 80 pounds ($160)
Last year, an e-petition on the Downing Street Web site called for changes to the Fraudulent Mediums Act to make prosecutions easier, observing, “There are increasingly more TV shows and live acts where people claiming to be mediums and psychics prey on vulnerable people who have lost loved ones.”
This petition received only 365 signatures.
With the repeal of the Fraudulent Mediums Act, there will no longer be any legislation to specifically prosecute mediums, fake or otherwise. But it will also remove any special protection in law from “genuine” mediums. Hence, dissatisfied customers could take civil action against a medium who failed to provide services as advertised. This would put mediums in the same boat as any other service provider in the U.K.
Fear of Legal Attack
David McEntee-Taylor, head of the Spiritual Workers Association (SWA), which organized last week’s protest, told the London Independent, “What we have here is a fundamental attack on our right to practice our religion.”
“We fear this will end up with one of us in court in front of a judge,” he added.
However, this is not the view of all mediums in the U.K. The long-established Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU), from which the SWA recently split, is backing the changes. SNU spokesman Minister Steven Upton said, “We are quite happy with the Act being repealed. We have no problems with the new legislation and think it will be good news for spiritualists.”
Lawyers have advised that mediums can avoid the problem of having to prove their psychic abilities in court by describing their services as entertainment or even scientific experiments. But true believers are not happy about doing this.
All this prompts the obvious question: Why do genuine mediums need protection from civil action? Can’t they just refuse to meet clients with whom they foresee trouble?