The Government has accepted the Law Commission’s recommendations to reform the communications offences, made in the 2021 Modernising Communications Offences report. It intends to include the offences in the Online Safety Bill.
The reformed offences will refocus the criminal law on communications where the sender specifically intended to cause harm, and that pose a real and substantial risk of causing at least serious distress.
It will no longer be enough that the communication was “grossly offensive” regardless of whether harm was likely or intended. As a result, the law will better protect freedom of expression than the existing criminal law does, at the same time as ensuring that the criminal law is better able to address genuine and serious harm arising from communications.
These offences will replace the offences in the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and section 127(1)-(2)(b) of the Communications Act 2003.
Professor Penney Lewis, Commissioner for Criminal Law, said:
“The criminal law should target those who specifically intend to cause harm, while allowing people to share contested and controversial ideas in good faith. Our recommendations create a more nuanced set of criminal offences, which better protect victims of genuinely harmful communications as well as better protecting freedom of expression.
I am delighted that the Government has accepted these recommended offences.”