Lords inquiry into social media offences

Communications Committee to consider whether current law is fit for purpose

The House of Lords Communications Committee is conducting an inquiry into social media and communications offences. The inquiry will look into whether the legislation currently dealing with such offences (which includes the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, the Malicious Communications Act 1988, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Communications Act 2003) needs to be adapted in response to changes in media and social behaviour, and to deal with issues such as trolling and harassment. It will also consider whether the line between free speech and protection of victims is sufficiently clear. According to the UK Parliament website, the inquiry is likely to raise the following questions:

  • Whether the law currently covering offences related to social media and communications offences is capable of adapting to the way in which people behave, given the speed of changes in technology.
  • If there are areas of overlap or gaps in the range of legislation covering social media and communications offences, which means that categorising the offence is not always clear.
  • Whether the sentences handed out for social media and communications offences are known, consistent and appropriate and, more generally, whether other approaches, such as restorative justice and education, might be more effective.
  • How, in responding to these issues, reform to the current package of legislation can strike an effective balance between victim protection and freedom of expression.

The Committee held its first of two evidence sessions on 1 July 2014, with the second session expected to be held before the end of July and the report shortly thereafter.

The announcement came on the same day as the news that an amendment has been tabled to to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill aimed at preventing so-called “revenge pornography” by making it an offence to publish matter of an intimate or pornographic nature without consent. The House of Lords will debate amendments  on the Bill on 21 July.