29 July 2014

Crime and publication - does the UK need a revenge porn law?


Revenge porn' hit the front pages again this morning following a House of Lords Communications Committee report which considered the extent to which existing law in the UK was sufficient to deal with the issue. Revenge porn is the term given for the non-consensual publication of explicit images by an individual of an ex-partner, usually via the internet and a number websites which specifically cater for just this type of 'revenge'. Photographs and videos on such sites often link to a victim's personal Facebook account, with the aim of prompting unsolicited contact and causing distress. An earlier blog by Caroline Thompson pointed out that revenge porn is already unlawful in that it gives rise to an action in misuse of private information. Caroline suggested a number of practical solutions for a claimant where they believe they are, or are about to be, a victim of revenge porn, both to protect themselves and deter the culprit. So if the civil law is already on side, what are the House of Lords discussing? The issue is whether a new criminal sanction is needed as a deterrent, to make clear to modern Britain that behaviour of this sort is criminal and will lead to prosecution. At the moment there is no specific crime of carrying out 'revenge porn', though those found to have published explicit images of an ex would likely be caught by an offence under various existing statutes, including s.127 of the Communications Act 2003, s.1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and s.2 of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. However, the language in these Acts was not drafted in contemplation of revenge porn (one of the Acts in fact pre-dates the internet!), so the Communications Committee are currently seeking guidance from the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, as to whether and how the existing law would apply to revenge porn. The House of Lords are conscious that over-legislating is not desirable, with the Committee's report suggesting that better guidance rather than a new offence is what is needed. Whether the existing law is deemed sufficient to deal with the issue will depend greatly on the DPP's guidance. In an era of widespread Smartphone ownership, Snapchat and the selfie, and more and more high profile 'revenge porn' attacks (such as the recent Tulisa Contostavlos case) the argument for creating a new criminal offence to prevent revenge porn is only going to grow.

Category: Blog