The Law which relates to hypnosis in Great Britain is the Hypnotism Act 1952. It was introduced in response to media hysteria after a young lady sued the American hypnotist Ralph Slater, asserting that she had suffered mental damage as a result of Slater’s show. Even though the case was thrown out, various misinformed bodies attempted to use the situation to repress stage hypnosis, resulting in the current legislation.
FESH has continually campaigned against this ridiculous law, which is unworkable and unfair. However, for the moment it remains on the statute books.
What The Law Says
The law relates only to the licensing of hypnosis shows. Contrary to popular opinion the law itself says nothing about what a hypnosis show may or may not contain.
In premises which have an entertainment licence, the licensing authority may, if they wish, impose conditions regulating the use of hypnosis.
In premises which do not have an entertainment licence, any hypnosis event “at or in connection with an entertainment to which the public are admitted.” must be authorised by the licensing authority, and again they may impose conditions if they wish.
Now, the question arose in the mid-1990s as to what conditions it was appropriate to impose. Licensing authorites have no specialist knowledge of hypnosis, and the conditions they sometimes imposed were usually ill-informed, and often bizarre. For this reason, the Home Office, in their 1995 report on stage hypnosis, gave a set of suggested conditions which authorities could impose.
These conditions were refined and revised after consultation with FESH and with medical and academic psychologists to produce the 1996 Model Conditions which are appended below. Note that these have no legal force: they are suggested conditions which local authorities may or may not feel appropriate to impose or modify when regulating hypnosis.
The law also forbids stage hypnosis of anyone under eighteen.
When The Law Does Not Apply
Firstly, the law only applies to hypnosis as entertainment. It does not apply to any scientific demonstration or performance.
Secondly, it only applies if there is a “sleep or induced trance” induced in the subjects. “Waking hypnosis”, “waking suggestion” and the like are not covered by the Act, and no licence is needed to practise them.
Thirdly, the law does not apply to private performances or performances in members-only venues.
Home Office Guidelines
As mentioned above, the Home Office Guidelines are just that: guidelines for licensing authorities on what conditions it is appropriate for them to stipulate. They have no legal standing, though they are, for the most part, rooted in good sense, and for that reason most of the main provisions are included in the FESH Code of Conduct.
The first three sections, though, in the opinion of FESH, are unnecessary bureaucracy. It is ridiculous, for instance, to insist that applications must be made in writing, at least 28 days before the performance, and a copy of the application must be sent to the chief of police.
Likewise, what is the point of every single application having to state that the applicant has not been convicted under the Hypnotism Act (1952) when no one has ever been charged, let alone convicted under that Act.
For these reasons FESH is pressing for the Home Office Circular to be reviewed, and specifically that the first three paragraphs be drastically revised.