Computer Misuse Act 1990

Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 4th February 2015.

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To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, how many people were (a) charged, (b) convicted and (c) sentenced to custody following a conviction involving misuse of social media in the most recent year for which figures are available; and what offences they were (i) charged with, (ii) convicted of and (iii) sentenced for.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

The Government is absolutely clear that abusive or threatening behaviour, stalking or harassment, are totally unacceptable, whether online or offline. A number of offences may be committed by misusing the internet or social media in this way, in particular under section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 or section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. Changes to the law in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill will help to ensure that people who commit those offences are prosecuted and properly punished.

Stalking causes misery for victims. That is why in 2012 we added to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 two new specific offences of stalking (section 2A) and stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress (section 4A), the latter of which is punishable by up to five years in prison, or a fine, or both. Online stalking or harassment could amount to one of these offences if it is carried out as part of a ‘course of conduct’ which amounts to stalking, and could amount to the more serious offence if that course of conduct puts someone in fear of violence, or if it causes them serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their usual day-to-day activities

The number of defendants proceeded against at magistrates' courts and found guilty at all courts for offences relating to the Computer Misuse Act 1990, from 1990 to 2013 (latest data available), can be viewed in the table.

Information held centrally by the Ministry of Justice on the Court Proceedings Database does not include the circumstances behind each case beyond the description provided in the statute. It is not possible to separately identify from this centrally held information convictions and sentences involving the use or misuse of social media, or cyber crime. This detailed information may be held on the court record but due to the size and complexity is not reported centrally to the MoJ. As such, the information requested can only be obtained at disproportionate cost.

Court proceedings data for 2014 are planned for publication in May 2015.

Defendants proceeded against at magistrates' court and found guilty at all courts for offences relating to the Computer Misuse Act 1990, England & Wales, 1990-2013(1)(2)




(-) Nil
(1) The figures given in the table relate to persons for whom these offences were the principal offences for which they were dealt with. When a defendant has been found guilty of two or more offences it is the offence for which the heaviest penalty is imposed. Where the same disposal is imposed for two or more offences, the offence selected is the offence for which the statutory maximum penalty is the most severe.
(2) Every effort is made to ensure that the figures presented are accurate and complete. However, it is important to note that these data have been extracted from large administrative data systems generated by the courts and police forces. As a consequence, care should be taken to ensure data collection processes and their inevitable limitations are taken into account when those data are used.
(3) The number of defendants found guilty in a particular year may exceed the number proceeded against as the proceedings in the magistrates' court took place in an earlier year and the defendants were found guilty at the Crown Court in the following year; or the defendants were found guilty of a different offence to that for which they were originally proceeded against.
(4) Excludes data for Cardiff magistrates' court for April, July and August 2008.
Source: Justice Statistics Analytical Services - Ministry of Justice.
PQ 222192

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