Internet trolls who target people with abusive or offensive material online will face up to two years in prison and the police will have more time to investigate cases as part of the government’s commitment to protecting victims of crime.
The government is changing the law to increase the maximum sentence for the offence of sending certain items with the intent to cause distress or anxiety. This will mean more serious offences can be dealt with in the Crown Court and there will not be a time limit for police and Crown Prosecution Service to bring a prosecution.
Alongside this, the government is also changing the law to allow up to 3 years, as opposed to 6 months as previously, to bring prosecutions against people for using the internet, social media or mobile phones to send menacing messages.
Justice Minister Chris Grayling said:
The sending of abusive messages or material online can cause absolute misery for victims and we need to make sure that people who commit these awful crimes are properly punished.
We already have offences in place to deal with this appalling behaviour, but we’ve toughened up the law to make sure these crimes can be properly investigated and those who commit the most serious offences face a longer prison sentence.
Changes to the law will be made through the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, currently going through Parliament. This comes on top of a raft of government measures to support victims. Next year, victims’ rights to tell the court how their crime has affected them will be set out in statute; a new nationwide Victims’ Information Service will be set up to ensure better information and support; and millions of pounds will be invested in improving the court experience.
Crucially, we will also develop plans to require advocates to undergo specialist training before taking part in sexual abuse or rape trials, which will make going to court easier and less distressing for victims. All vulnerable victims and witnesses will also be given greater opportunity to give evidence away from the court building, and we will work towards rolling out pre-trial cross examination for child victims nationally, subject to the evaluation of on-going pilots.
The government also provides £4.4 million annually to fund rape support centres and has met its commitment to open 15 new support facilities across the country since 2010.
Notes to editors
- The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill amends section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 to make the offence an either-way offence with a maximum penalty on conviction on in the Crown Court of 2 years imprisonment. The offence covers sending a letter, electronic communication or article of any description to another person, which is in nature, or which conveys a message which is, indecent or grossly offensive, or conveys a threat or false information, with the purpose of causing distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person to whom it is intended that its contents should be communicated.
- Government amendments to the Bill tabled at Report Stage to the offence in section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 will extend the time limit for prosecutions of offences under that section 127 to 3 years from commission of the offence, as long as this is also within 6 months of the day on which evidence which the prosecutor considers sufficient to justify proceedings comes to the prosecutor’s knowledge. Section 127 covers, amongst other things, the sending by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character. The maximum penalty for offences under section 127 is 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine of up to £5,000.