05 Nov 2018

UK reform efforts start to tackle online abuse

Reform of the criminal law needed to protect victims from online abuse, which is now commonplace, says the UK Law Commission.


Reforms to the law are required to protect victims from online and social media-based abuse, according to a new Report by the Law Commission for England and Wales.

Abuse commonplace

In its scoping report assessing the state of the law in this area, published today the Law Commission raises concerns about the lack of coherence in the current criminal law and the problems this causes for victims, police and prosecutors. It is also critical of the current law’s ability to protect people harmed by a range of behaviour online including: receiving abusive and offensive communications; ‘pile on’ harassment, often on social media; and, misuse of private images and information. The Commission is calling for: reform and consolidation of existing criminal laws dealing with offensive and abusive communications online; a specific review considering how the law can more effectively protect victims who are subject to a campaign of online harassment; and, a review of how effectively the criminal law protects personal privacy online. Professor David Ormerod QC, Law Commissioner for Criminal Law, said ‘as the internet and social media have become an everyday part of our lives, online abuse has become commonplace for many.’ He explained, ‘our report highlights the ways in which the criminal law is not keeping pace with these technological changes. We identify the areas of the criminal law most in need of reform in order to protect victims and hold perpetrators to account.’

Next steps

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) will now analyse the report and decide on the next steps including what further work the Law Commission can do to produce recommendations for how the criminal law can be improved to tackle online abuse. Digital minister Margot James said ‘behaviour that is illegal offline should be treated the same when it’s committed online.. She added, ‘there is much more to be done and we’ll be considering the Law Commission’s findings as we develop a White Paper setting out new laws to make the UK a safer place to be online.’ The report can be found here.