Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Offence of Sending Letters etc. with Intent to Cause Distress or Anxiety

Part of Orders of the Day — Malicious Communications Bill – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 8th July 1988.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 11:30 am, 8th July 1988

The hon. Gentleman is making the point I have already made, which is that he is eminently forgettable. I do not think that we can carry the matter much further. It is for the House to judge whether he has been present; I am confident that he has not.

The hon. Gentleman asked for my advice, and that is flattering. He asked whether the document would fall within the scope of the Bill. I cannot tell him the answer until I look at the document, but if he wants my professional advice, he can show it to me afterwards and I shall give it to him.

We have identified the fact —it is common ground—that the Bill is designed to deal with a serious problem, which can be concerted and can have a broad base. It is not sufficiently addressed by statute at present. Therefore, we can proceed on the basis that this is an important Bill designed to address a serious social mischief.

The question that arises is the level of fine—whether we should proceed on the basis of a scale 3, scale 4, or scale 5 fine. Several hon. Members have said that penalties must bear a relationship one with the other and that it would be wrong for our disapproval of one particular offence, such as that with which we are dealing, to drive us to put it into a scale of fine that is disproportionate to the scales of fines attached to other offences.

The offences with which we are dealing are dealt with summarily. The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) asked whether there should be a penalty over and above scale 5. Generally speaking, the maximum penalty that can be awarded by a justice is a scale 5 penalty. There are exceptional cases in which justices can impose a more substantial financial penalty, but that is unusual. We could provide for a higher level of financial penalty only if we were to provide that this class of offence should be dealt with on indictment. For reasons that I hope the hon. Member for Caernarfon will accept, it is undesirable that this class of offence should be dealt with by a jury. It is pre-eminently the type of offence that should be dealt with by justices and, accordingly, we could not attach to it a penalty in excess of scale 5.