On-line Abuse: Law Commission Proposals to Better Protect Victims.

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The Law Commission has today published proposals to provide better protection for victims from harmful online behaviour. This includes among other things abusive messages or emails. Reforms to tackle the malicious sharing of information known to be false have also been proposed.

This is welcome news as the rise of the internet use and social media in our society has provided new opportunities to engage with one another on an unprecedented scale. However, the existing communications offences have not adapted with changes to how we now communicate leaving some people in a vulnerable position leaving some people with no way of addressing harmful behaviours online.

The proposals laid out in the Law Commission’s consultation paper hope to ensure that the law surrounding this area is clearer and targets serious harm and criminality arising from online abuse. This obviously needs to be balanced with the need to better protect the right to freedom of expression.

This includes:

  • Reforms to the communications offences (the Malicious Communications Act 1988 (MCA 1988) and the Communications Act 2003 (CA 2003)), to criminalise behaviour where a communication would likely cause harm.
    • This would cover emails, social media posts and WhatsApp messages, in addition to pile-on harassment (when a number of different individuals send harassing communications to a victim).
  •  communication sent over private networks such as Bluetooth or a local intranet, which are not currently covered under the CA 2003.
  •  introduction of the requirement of proof of likely harm. Currently, neither proof of likely harm nor proof of actual harm are required under the existing communications offences.
  • Cyberflashing – the unsolicited sending of images or video recordings of one’s genitals – should be included as a sexual offence under section 66 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. This would ensure that additional protections for victims are available.
  • Raising the threshold for false communications so that it would only be an offence if the defendant knows the post is false, they are intending to cause non‑trivial emotional, psychological, or physical harm, and if they have no excuse.

I think this is another welcome step and necessary reform for dealing with how we function in a world where social media and communications online are the “norm” for how we communicate with each other. With the future of how we work and live being far from certain with the pandemic very much at the forefront of our lives, technology is only going to become more central to how we live and work. Therefore, it is even more important that there is adequate protection from those people who seek to use these forms of communication in an abusive and harassing way.

Speak to our specialist lawyers today

IBB Law’s family law practice can provide expert advice on this area of abuse.. To contact the family law team please email familylaw@ibblaw.co.uk or call 03456 381381.

Kate Ryan is an expert in coercive and controlling behaviour. For advice in this area email Kate at kate.ryan@ibblaw.co.uk.