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February 18, 2015

‘Revenge Porn’ becomes a specific criminal offence

Categories: Harassment, News, Privacy

Tag: legislation

Criminal Justice and Courts Act receives Royal Assent


On 12 February 2015 the Criminal Justice and Courts Act received Royal Assent. The new Act makes covers a number of areas of the law, but of particular interest to media lawyers will be the provisions relating to so-called ‘revenge porn’ and malicious communications.

The Act will make it an offence, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine to disclose private sexual photographs and films without consent and with intent to cause distress (section 33). The offence applies to images shared online, via mobile, or offline. The offence is intended to tackle what is known as ‘revenge porn’ – the sharing of intimate pictures without consent, often by a former partner after the end of a relationship.

For the purposes of the offence, material is “private” if it shows something that is not of a kind ordinarily seen in public. Material is “sexual” if it shows the genitals or public area, what is shows is sexual in nature, or if, taken as a whole, a reasonable person would consider it to be sexual (section 35).

There are defences available where the disclosure was made in the course of, or with a view to, the publication of journalistic material, and with a reasonable belief that publication would be in the public interest; or where the person disclosing the material reasonably believed that the photograph or film had previously been disclosed for reward with the consent of the person in the photograph or film (section 34).

The new offence is not the only offence which covers the situation where such material is shared. In October 2014 the CPS issued guidance for prosecutors in relation to the use of existing offences, such as offences under the Malicious Communications Act 1998, Communications Act 2003, Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the Sexual Offences Act 2003. On the civil side, such behaviour may be part of a course of conduct which constitutes harassment, a misuse of private information and/or a breach of the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998.

The 2015 Act will also make the offence of sending letters etc. with intent to cause distress or anxiety under section 1 Malicious Communications Act 1988 triable either way, with a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment after conviction on indictment (section 32).

The changes appear to reflect, in part, the findings of the House of Lords Communications Committee Report on Social Media and Criminal Offences.

The Ministry of Justice has issued a factsheet for police officers on the new offence.

Links:

‘Revenge porn’ illegal under new law in England and Wales – BBC News

‘Revenge porn’ criminalised: What is it and what are the consequences? – The Independent

Revenge porn is becoming a criminal offence in the UK – Wall Street Journal

Government launches posters to ‘end revenge porn – The Telegraph