Andreas Whittam Smith is standing down as president of UK certification body the British Board of Film Classification.

Whittam Smith, credited with liberalising certification with regard to sexual content, made the decision after being appointed First Church Estates Commissioner, which is a Crown appointment. He steps down on July 31, having held the post for over four and a half years.

"The board is now seen as an open and accountable organisation with a set of guidelines which reflect current public opinions," said the former journalist. "That is not to say that the board is above criticism from some quarters. For example, I recognise that not everyone yet shares my and the board's view that adults should be able to make their own viewing decisions."

One of Whittam Smith's first acts was to establish a review of the board's classification guidelines based on public consultation. He declared three objectives for the board: to promote consistency in classification, to encourage public openness, and to make sure the board was well-informed about public opinion of its work.

He also established the Advisory Panel on Children's Viewing to maintain a watching brief on the activities of the BBFC where the interests of children are concerned.

"I look forward eventually to a time when all of the board's classification decisions are advisory, as they are in most European countries, but this is some way off," he said. "As a first step the board is currently looking at the possibility of making the '12' rating advisory, allowing parents rather than the BBFC to decide whether younger children can see the film."