Government asks Law Commission to look at trolling laws

The government has asked the Law Commission to review the laws around offensive communications and assess whether they provide the right protection to victims online.

With research showing that nearly a third of UK internet users were on the receiving end of trolling, harassment or cyberbullying last year, the independent body will provide a robust review of the current laws and set out how they apply to online communications.

This independent review of the law is expected to be published within 6 months of when work starts in April. If deficiencies in the current law are identified, the Commission has agreed to further work looking at potential options for reform.

This will be informed by developing Government policy in the Government Digital Charter which aims to make the UK the safest place in the world online.

Law Commissioner Professor David Ormerod QC said:

“There are laws in place to stop abuse but we’ve moved on from the age of green ink and poison pens. The digital world throws up new questions and we need to make sure that the law is robust and flexible enough to answer them.

“If we are to be safe, both on and off line, the criminal law must offer appropriate protection in both spaces.

“By studying the law and identifying any problems we can give government the full picture as it works to make the UK the safest place to be online.”

Making the UK safe online

In October 2017 the Government launched its Internet Safety Strategy green paper, pledging to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online. It is the first part of the Digital Charter – a rolling programme of work to agree norms and rules for the online world and put them into practice.

As part of this work, the Government has asked the independent Law Commission to conduct a robust review of the current laws around offensive online communications. The Commission will analyse:

  • How the Malicious Communications Act 1988 deals with offensive online communications
  • How the Communications Act 2003 deals with online communications
  • What “grossly offensive” means and whether that poses difficulties in legal certainty
  • Whether the law means you need to prove fault or prove intention to prosecute offensive online communications
  • The need to update definitions in the law which technology has rendered obsolete or confused, such as the meaning of “sender”
  • How other parts of the criminal law overlap with online communications laws

The Government already has active programmes of work in some areas of online communications offences. As a result the Law Commission will not consider:

  • terrorist offences committed online
  • child sexual exploitation
  • platform liability

Following this analysis of the law, the Commission is expected to undertake a further 6 month project before making recommendations to government, informed by public consultation.