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22/11/23

Online Safety Bill | New Online Offences

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In a previous article posted to this site entitled Online Safety Bill | Kangs Online Safety Regulations Solicitors we examined The Online Safety Bill (‘the Bill’) designed ‘to make provision for and in connection with the regulation by OFCOM of certain internet services; for and in connection with communications offences; and for connected purposes.’

The Bill has now been approved by the House of Lords  and awaits Royal Assent, whereafter it will become law.

Thereafter, it is anticipated that online and social media companies will quickly remove any illegal content and stop it from being uploaded.

John Veale of KANGS now examines communications offences created by the Bill, conviction for breach of which may result in a fine, a custodial sentence or both.

The Communications Offences

The Offences created appear at Part 10 of the Bill as follows.

  • Section 180: False communications offence

A person commits an offence if they send a message that conveys information that the person knows to be false and, at the time the message is sent, the person intended the message or the information in it to cause non-trivial psychological or physical harm to a likely audience.

Prosecutions will not be able to be brought for this offence for certain licenced broadcasters and publishers or in connection with the showing of a film made for cinema being shown to the public.

  • Section 182: Threatening communications offence

A person commits an offence if they send a message that conveys a threat of death or serious harm, and at the time of sending it, the person intended or was reckless as to whether an individual encountering the message would fear that the threat would be carried out. The bill defines serious as including grievous bodily harm, rape or serious financial harm.

  • Section184: Offences of sending or showing flashing images electronically

A person commits an offence if they send a communication by electronic means which consists of, or includes, flashing images and they have no reasonable excuse for doing so and at the time the message is sent it is reasonably foreseeable that an individual with epilepsy or a individual with epilepsy known to the sender would be among those who would view it and the communication is sent with the intention that such an individual would suffer harm as a result.

  • Section 185: Offence of encouraging or assisting serious self-harm-

A person commits an offence if they do a relevant act capable of encouraging or assisting the serious self-harm of another and that act was intended to encourage or assist that serious self-harm.

That relevant act could be a communication in person, or sent, shown, transmitted, published by electronic or other means. Serious self-harm means grievous bodily harm or acts culminating in grievous bodily harm.

Persons who transmit a message from another that encourages serious self-harm to someone and that someone then self-harms can be guilty of an offence. An offence may be committed whether or not serious harm occurs.

Sentencing

Prosecution for alleged breaches of the False Communications Offence will be conducted only before a Magistrates’ Court and a conviction can result in a fine, the maximum prison sentence that can be imposed by the Magistrates’ Court or both.

The remaining three offences are known as ‘either way’ offences and are triable either before a Magistrates’ Court or a Crown Court.

Conviction before a Magistrates’ Court will result in a fine, the maximum prison sentence available to that court or both.

Conviction before a Crown Court can result in a fine, a maximum prison sentence of five years or both.

Who Can I Contact for Advice & Help?

If you are subject to an investigation by OFCOM, any other Regulatory Body, local authority or any other prosecuting body, you should seek immediate expert legal advice and assistance.

As will be seen, a conviction may result in a large fine, a substantial prison sentence or even both.

Additionally, adverse publicity may well be attracted by a conviction and the effect this could have on your business may be catastrophic.

The Team at KANGS offers a wealth of experience handling all stages of an Investigation and Prosecution whatever the alleged criminal conduct and would be pleased to advise and assist you.

If we can be of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact our Team through any of the following:

Hamraj Kang

Hamraj Kang
Senior Partner

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John Veale

John Veale
Partner

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Tim Thompson

Tim Thompson
Partner

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