Malicious Communications Act 1988

The Malicious Communications Act 1988 is a law in the United Kingdom that makes it illegal to send threatening, abusive, or offensive messages to others. The act was introduced in response to growing concerns about the rise of online harassment and abuse, and was designed to provide law enforcement with the tools they need to prosecute those who engage in such behavior.

Section 1 of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 makes it an offense to send a message that is “indecent or grossly offensive,” “threatening,” or “false” with the intent to cause distress or anxiety to the recipient. This includes messages sent through social media, text messages, emails, and other electronic communications.

Section 1A of the act was added in 2015, and makes it an offense to send a communication that is “grossly offensive” or “of an indecent, obscene or menacing character” with the intent to cause “distress or anxiety” to the recipient, or with the knowledge that it is likely to do so.

The act was also amended in 2020 and 2022.

The act also includes provisions that allow law enforcement to seize and search electronic devices, such as computers and smartphones, if they believe they contain evidence related to a malicious communications offense.

In recent years, there has been growing concern about the use of social media and other online platforms to harass and abuse others.

The CPS publish guidance Social Media and other Electronic Communications

The Malicious Communications Act 1988 has been used to prosecute a number of high-profile cases, including the case of Isabella Sorley and John Nimmo, who were both sentenced to jail time in 2014 for sending abusive tweets to feminist campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez.

Critics of the act have argued that it is too broad and could be used to stifle free speech. They also argue that the act is often used to prosecute individuals for relatively minor offenses, such as sending offensive jokes or memes, rather than more serious cases of harassment and abuse.

Despite these criticisms, the act remains an important tool for law enforcement in the fight against online harassment and abuse. It sends a clear message that such behavior will not be tolerated, and provides a legal framework for prosecuting those who engage in it.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of online harassment or abuse, it is important to report the incident to the police or to a trusted authority.

You can also find resources and support from organizations such as the National Stalking Helpline, the Cyber Helpline, and the Revenge Porn Helpline.

In conclusion, the Malicious Communications Act 1988 is a vital piece of legislation that helps to protect individuals from online harassment and abuse. While there are valid concerns about its potential impact on free speech, it remains an important tool for law enforcement in the fight against malicious communications.

The website has various help and guidance on Crime, justice and the law.

Check out our articles on What is Stalking and Harassment, What is the Law ?, Sent an Email to the Wrong Person ? and the highly questionable Sussex Family Justice Board.

We have a number of links to Free Legal Resources and Legal Organisations on our Free Legal Advice , Legal Aid and Pro Bono pages.

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Dom Watts is the founder of the Ministry of Injustice. Dom works in IT and has no legal training and is not a lawyer. You can find Dom on X or Google.

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