Internet safety: The Government launches an inquiry into current ‘offensive communications’ laws

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Photo by CODATA International CC BY 2.0
8 February, 2018
In the wake of the Internet Safety Green Paper consultation, the Government has recognised a potential need to refresh legislation to align with the modern digital age. It has asked the Law Commission to review legislation around offensive communications to ensure it is up to date, and can be effectively applied to online communications. If the Commission finds there are gaps, it will commit to further work - which should eventually lead to reform.
How does this affect the voluntary, community and social enterprise (VCSE) sector?
Nearly one third of UK internet users have been subjected to ‘online harm’, including cyberbullying or harassment. The VCSE sector works with some of the most vulnerable people in society, many of whom are more likely to be victims of online abuse. The best possible outcome would be for the sector to see greater protection and support from the criminal justice system for service-users who have experienced offensive communications online.
What will the commission be looking at?
The Commission will be undertaking a ‘robust review of the current laws around offensive online communications’, including:
  • What constitutes a ‘grossly offensive’ communication
  • How offensive online communications are dealt with by the criminal justice system.
  • Whether a victim has to prove fault or intention to harm
  • The ways in which other parts of criminal law overlaps with online communications laws.
Because the Government already has active programmes of work in some areas of online communications offences, the Law Commission will not consider:
  • Online terrorist offences
  • Child sexual exploitation
  • Platform liability
Where will the data come from?
Information gathered from the Green Paper consultation will partly inform the Law Commission’s work. Voscur submitted a report as part of the Green Paper consultation. You can read it here.
When will the results be published?
The independent review is expected to be published within six months. The Law Commission will continue this piece of work, should changes to current legislation be needed.
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