By the end of May, if British legislators have their way, a series of new EU-inspired consumer protection regulations will be in place to safeguard against fraudulent activity in a widening range of commercial activity.
The looming clampdown is drawing the loudest protest from the country's spiritualist and psychic communities. The group feels the stiffer regulatory scheme will wreak havoc on their practices of communicating with the deceased and predicting the future since it will place more onerous restrictions upon them and potentially opening them up to more litigation.
On April 18, about a dozen British mediums, psychics, healers and Tarot card readers congregated in Trafalgar Square before marching to the Prime Minister's office at 10 Downing St. to submit a petition with up to 10,000 signatures requesting that the government maintain the law currently on the books and forget about the new measures altogether. The most vocal opponents are in favour of retaining the 1951 Fraudulent Mediums Act whereby prosecutors had to prove that a medium or healer intended to commit fraud in order to secure a conviction.
The 1951 Act replaced the more archaic 1735 Witchcraft Act. The latter ended the practice of executing those who claimed to have supernatural powers. Although it shunned executions, it contained no presumption of innocence and automatically assumed mystics were frauds, to be punished with a prison sentence or a fine.
In turn, the 1951 Act carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison or a fine. The law, however, has been rarely enforced due to the reversed legal onus upon prosecutors to prove there was an intention to deliberately deceive a client. As a result, the UK's Guardian reports that there have been fewer than ten convictions over the past twenty years. The new regulations that are expected to be adopted will provide a range of criminal and civil penalties, including two year prison sentences for the most egregious cases. The aspect most disconcerting to the spiritualist community is that, once again, there will be no need for prosecutors to prove an intention to commit fraud. The presumption of innocence will be retracted so that spiritualists and mediums must prove they did not mislead, coerce or take advantage of any 'vulnerable' consumers.
The government appears unreceptive to the spritualists' protest due to the fact that the regulations are aimed at more than simply covering the realms of divination and mediumship.
As reported in the Guardian: “If the Consumer Protection Regulations are approved by Parliament, as is likely...the regulations will come into force on 26 May. They will ban 31 types of unfair sales practice outright, including bogus closing-down sales, prize-draw scams and aggressive doorstep selling, and will for the first time establish a catch-all duty not to trade unfairly, closing loopholes that rogue traders have been able to exploit”.
By lumping spiritualism in as a consumer service, mediums assert they are prone to a spike in lawsuits if customers are somehow dissatisfied with the information they receive. The solution, according to legal experts is to provide a disclaimer up front, making it clear that any communication with the other side is undertaken strictly for 'entertainment purposes' or as a 'scientific experiment'.
Spiritualists claim that such measures discriminate against their practices which they believe are religious in nature.
Carole McEntee-Taylor, a healer who recently co-founded the Spiritual Workers' Association said in an interview with The Guardian that having to stand up and describe the invoking of spirits as an 'experiment' was forcing spiritualists to 'lie and deny our beliefs'. She added: 'No other religion has to do that. And how can you tell if someone is vulnerable? You would have to ask them if they felt vulnerable, or had mental health issues, or were of a nervous disposition.'
Spritiualism, however, does possess a distinct commercial side to it, so ultimately, the distinction between it existing as a commercial enterprise and a religion is blurred in the minds of many British citizens. If the Spiritualist Church in Britain, founded in the mid 1800s does indeed legally constitute a religious organization, they may have an opportunity to make a case for discrimination before the European Court of Human Rights.
The likelihood of increased civil litigation seems unlikely since plaintiffs will still be held to certain legal standards in bringing their cases forward. Simply claiming nothing more than the defendant misled them will not hold up in any respectable court of law in the country.
Insert Richard's comments...
Skeptics still abound and they see nothing wrong with the change in law. The website Skeptical Monkey writes: “In order to differentiate themselves from the charlatans, all they have to do is prove their claims are true. Any person who claims to provide a service to the public should first be willing to prove that they can actually provide that service."
And as with any commercial transaction, there exists a buyer beware element. Though the new regulations seek to protect 'vulnerable' individuals (which is difficult to define on its own), most reasonable people can judge for themselves whether the information they are receiving is authentic or not. And of course, if people feel they have been bilked, they can simply refuse to pay. Nothing and no one is preventing them from doing so in protest.