Law Commission to undertake phase 2 of the Abusive and Offensive Online Communications project

The Government has announced that it is asking the Law Commission to undertake phase 2 of the Abusive and Offensive Online Communications project.

This follows on from the Law Commission’s Scoping Report on Abusive and Offensive Online Communications which was published in November 2018. The Commission concluded that the criminal law which governs abusive and offensive communication online requires review and reform.

In its White Paper published in April 2019, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) welcomed the Law Commission’s recommendations and announced that the Law Commission will immediately begin work on considering specific recommendations for reform.

In taking forward the recommendations made in our Scoping Report, this second phase of the project will cover:

  1. Reform of the communications offences (in section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and section 127 of the Communications Act 2003) to ensure that they are clear and understandable and provide greater certainty to online users and law enforcement agencies.            In addition, the glorification of violent crime online and the encouragement of self-harm online are issues which will be considered in the context of the review of communications offences.
  1. The review will consider whether coordinated harassment by groups of people online could be more effectively addressed by the criminal law.

The Commission aims to publish a consultation paper, inviting views on any recommendations for law reform, in Spring 2020.

Professor David Ormerod QC, Criminal Law Commissioner, said:

“In our scoping report, we saw the devastation that abusive online communications can cause for members of the public.

“We welcome this opportunity to ensure that the law is expressed with clarity and can be understood and applied consistently, so that it protects the public against this behaviour whilst respecting free speech.”

Further information

The Law Commission has two related projects:

  1. A review, which was also announced today and is part of the second phase of our work on abusive and offensive online communications, looking at the law relating to the taking, making and sharing of intimate images without consent. For more information, see our webpage here.
  2. A review of the law relating to hate crime. For more information, see our webpage here.

We anticipate consultation papers on each of these projects will also be published in 2020.

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