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Law Commission recommends reforms to protect victims of online abuse

The Law Commission has recommended reforms to communications offences to target serious harms arising from online abuse, while more effectively protecting the right to freedom of expression.

A new harm-based offence would ensure only sufficiently harmful communications – which are likely to cause serious distress – are criminalised.

The recommendations include a number of new offences, including offences to tackle cyberflashing, the encouragement or assistance of serious self-harm and sending knowingly false communications.

More than 70 per cent of UK adults have a social media profile and internet users spend over four hours online each day on average. The online world has increased the scope for abuse and harm. A report by the Alan Turing institute estimates that approximately on- third of people in the UK been exposed to online abuse.

The recommendations, which have been laid in Parliament, would reform the "communications offences" found in section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 ("MCA 1988") and section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 ("CA 2003"). These offences do not provide consistent protection from harm and in some instances disproportionately interfere with freedom of expression.

The reforms would address the harms arising from online abuse by modernising the existing communications offences, ensuring that the law is clearer and that it effectively targets serious harm and criminality. The recommendations aim to do this in a proportionate way in order to protect freedom of expression. They also seek to "future-proof" the law in this area as much as possible by not confining the offences to any particular mode or type of communication.

For details of the Law Commission's recommendations, click here.