Internet: Bullying

Ministry of Justice written question – answered on 23rd February 2015.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights)

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, if he will bring forward legislative proposals to increase the sentences available in cases of the cyber-bullying of students.

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

The sending of abusive messages or material online can cause misery for victims and is an issue the Government takes extremely seriously.

That is why we are changing the law through the Criminal Justice and Courts Act to increase the maximum sentence to two years in prison for the offence of sending abusive or offensive material online with intent to cause distress or anxiety.

We are also changing the law to enable prosecutions to take place three years after the alleged offence, rather than six months.

There are a number of other serious penalties available in cases of cyber bullying of students.

Under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, the offences of harassment causing alarm or distress or putting people in fear of violence carry a maximum of six months and five years imprisonment respectively.

There is also an offence under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 of sending material which is indecent, grossly offensive, obscene or menacing. It carries a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment.

In addition, guidelines issued by the independent Sentencing Council stipulate that it is an aggravating factor if an offence is committed against a vulnerable victim or involves abuse of a position of power. Sentencing guidelines can be found on the Sentencing Council’s website, and courts are obliged to follow the guidelines unless it is not in the interests of justice to do so.

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