Offensive Online Communications

Current project status

  • Initiation: Could include discussing scope and terms of reference with lead Government Department
  • Pre-consultation: Could include approaching interest groups and specialists, producing scoping and issues papers, finalising terms of project
  • Consultation: Likely to include consultation events and paper, making provisional proposals for comment
  • Policy development: Will include analysis of consultation responses. Could include further issues papers and consultation on draft Bill
  • Reported: Usually recommendations for law reform but can be advice to government, scoping report or other recommendations

On 5 February 2018 the Prime Minister announced that the Law Commission would undertake an analysis of the laws around offensive online communications. We expect to publish our analysis before the end of 2018.

Research shows that in 2017 28% of UK internet users were on the receiving end of trolling, harassment or cyberbullying.

As a result, and as part of its efforts to make the UK the safest place online in the world, the Government asked the Law Commission to review the current law around offensive online communications and highlight any gaps in the law which cause problems in tackling this abuse.

The project

The Commission will analyse:

  • How the Malicious Communications Act 1988 deals with offensive online communications
  • How the Communications Act 2003 deals with online communications
  • What “grossly offensive” means and whether that poses difficulties in legal certainty
  • Whether the law means you need to prove fault or prove intention to prosecute offensive online communications
  • The need to update definitions in the law which technology has rendered obsolete or confused, such as the meaning of “sender”
  • How other parts of the criminal law overlap with online communications laws

The Government already has active programmes of work in some areas of online communications offences. As a result the Law Commission will not consider:

  • terrorist offences committed online
  • child sexual exploitation
  • platform liability

Following this analysis of the law, the Commission is expected to undertake a further 6-12 month project before making recommendations to government, informed by public consultation.

For more information contact

Project details

Area of law

Criminal law


Professor David Ormerod QC