No need for revenge porn law, peers say

Revenge porn can be clamped down on using existing laws, peers say
Revenge porn can be clamped down on using existing laws, peers say
Ian Dunt By

Revenge porn can be tackled without the need for a new law, an influential committee of peers has said.

The Lords communications committee found there were several pieces of legislation already on the statute book which could be used to prevent the practice.

"Cyber bullying, revenge porn, trolling and virtual mobbing are new phrases in our media vocabulary, but they generally describe behaviour that is already criminal," chairman Lord Best said.

"We feel that legislation as it currently exists is generally fit for purpose and doing the job, even though it was drafted before the social media were first invented."


The report could put the brakes on embryonic attempts to pass a law in parliament.

Former culture secretary Maria Miller has taken up the cause of creating a specific new offence and said she won a sympathetic hearing from justice secretary Chris Grayling.

Her question to David Cameron about the subject during a recent PMQs saw a response from the prime minister which suggested new legislation was on its way.

Liberal Democrats are also calling for the practice to be banned.

Revenge porn involves former boyfriends who post video or images of consensual sexual acts with their ex-girlfriend online without their permission.

The videos often have the full name of the person in them. Even if they can be removed from the first website they are often quickly put on others, making removal very difficult.

The practice often destroys the career and confidence of young women.

But peers said men posting the images could be tackled if the director of public prosecutions offered guidance clarifying the circumstances in which charges can be brought.

Current guidance sets out a general reluctance to prosecute, unless the video shows extreme images.

Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003 makes it an offence to send an electronic message of a "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character".

Section one of the Malicious Communications Act 1988 makes it an offence to send a message which is "indecent or grossly offensive; a threat; or information which is false and known or believed to be false by the sender; [if the purpose is that] it should cause distress or anxiety to the recipient or to any other person to whom he intends that it or its contents or nature should be communicated".

There may also be sections of the Harassment Act 1997 which could be used by prosecutors.

The offences could see people who upload revenge porn sent to a magistrates' court and face up to six months imprisonment and a fine of up to £5,000.

But the criminal justice and courts bill, currently going through parliament, could make the Malicious Communications Act triable in a crown court, with an increased available sentence of two years.

Any use of existing laws would require new guidance from the director of public prosecutions, whose current reluctance to prosecute was designed to protect people from an overly censorious response when sharing explicit sexual imagery unrelated to revenge porn.

Targeting the men who upload revenge porn is arguably the most feasible way to try to clamp down on the practice, rather than targeting the websites themselves.

The websites are usually in a foreign jurisdiction and anyway have their videos cross-posted on other sites within minutes of being uploaded.

Even securing a successful conviction against men who upload the images is difficult. Sites rarely demand the identification of users, so it is difficult to prove in a court of law that the video was definitely handed to them by the defendant.

Instead campaigners are hoping that the threat of a prison sentence will discourage men from uploading the videos in future.

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