Law Commission to recommend legal reforms for online harassment

Written by Sam Trendall on 12 July 2019 in News

Statutory body asked to conduct a secondary review of internet abuse law

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The Law Commission has been asked to recommend possible legal reforms that would see those who engage in online abuse and harassment more forcefully dealt with by criminal law.

The commission, an independent statutory body sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, last year conducted the initial stage of a review into offensive and abusive communications on the internet. 

The scoping report published at the conclusion of that review found that existing laws often “do not adequately reflect the nature of some of the offending behaviour in the online environment, and the degree of harm it can cause”. As a result, the commission said, many instances of online abuse or harassment are not pursued by law enforcement.

The report called for further examination of existing laws, with particular reference to the extent to which they can more “effectively protect victims who are subject to a campaign of online harassment”, as well ensuring greater levels of privacy.

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The commission also recommended the “reform and consolidation of existing criminal laws dealing with offensive and abusive communications online”.

Having taken on board the recommendations of the scoping report, the MoJ and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have now asked the Law Commission to undertake a further stage of review.

In answer to a written parliamentary question from Lord Taylor of Warwick, Lord Ashton of Hyde, an under secretary of state at DCMS, said that “it is important to make sure that the criminal law is fit for purpose to deal with online harms”.

The government’s recent Online Harms White Paper laid the groundwork for the creation of a social media regulator with sanctioning powers. But the commission’s second stage of review of will look at whether criminal, rather than regulatory, measures would be more appropriate.

“The Law Commission will review existing communications offences and make recommendations about options for reform,” he said. “This will include considering whether co-ordinated harassment by groups of people online could be more effectively dealt with by the criminal law.”


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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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