Today on Radio 4, Home Secretary Amber Rudd was the latest government minister calling for an overhaul of the criminal law in the name of tackling “intimidation and aggression” on the internet. Her premise is that “what is illegal offline should also be illegal online”. This was repeated by Theresa May in a speech today in Manchester. The thrust of the complaint did not appear to be that existing laws are being poorly interpreted and enforced by police and prosecutors; nor that certain social media companies are famously reticent in providing information to prosecuting authorities; nor that the existing law is piecemeal and mishmash and could do with a jolly good refreshing and consolidating (all of which are undoubtedly true). Rather it was that there is a special quality to the law that means that certain threats or abuse made over the internet simply do not amount to a criminal offence, and that new laws are required pursuant to the Something Must Be Done Act.

Photo by Samuel Zeller

To help, I’ve cobbled together a comprehensive list of intimidatory acts that are illegal offline, but not illegal when committed over the internet:


















Footnote: The Law Commission has been asked to conduct a review into the existing law that will cover, among other things, this very issue. I am fully prepared to bow to the Commission’s wisdom if I’m wrong and made to look like a bit of a wally.

thesecretbarrister Lawsplaining, Politics , , , ,

13 Replies

  1. Slightly embarassed to admit I stared at the blank space a few seconds waiting for the screen to finish refreshing before the penny dropped

  2. I am glad that this list has been put together. However, I am concerned about my rights as a citizen and I appears that nothing is going to be done. Should I be making an application under the Something Must Be Done Act 2014, or would it be more appropriate to issue a JR of the decision that nothing needs to be done when, pursuant to the Something Must Be Done Act 2014, something must be done?

  3. Perhaps just to play the proverbial advocate, but is there merit in drafting specific legislation that is a clear deterrent for the type of people that troll and intimidate? For instance some of the law cited will be unfamiliar to the keyboard warrior or at least they may not see the connection to their online actions. Whereas a “don’t be an arse online” act may have more meaning to them? There may be overlaps but it puts things in one place in the way the public order act did. Forgive my non legal mind.

  4. The headline in the standard last night suggested that Rudd was going to issue pardons for the early 20th century suffragettes convicted of criminal offences – i.e. offences of violence and intimidation committed against politicians and for political ends.

    Can she not see the inconsistency?

  5. I do enjoy your blog, but because of the seriousness of your subject matter it does not often make me laugh out loud. It did this time. Thanks you – and well done.

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