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Social Media Prosecution Guidelines

Volume 564: debated on Thursday 20 June 2013

The Director of Public Prosecutions has today published his final guidelines for prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media. This follows an earlier public consultation exercise on the interim guidelines, details of which were announced in my written statement to the House on the 19 December 2012, Official Report, column 101WS.

The final guidelines take account of comments received in the consultation and the experience of recent prosecutions. They have been amended to clarify additional evidential and public interest considerations relevant when prosecutors assess whether a prosecution is required in accordance with the code for Crown prosecutors.

The overall approach of the guidelines remains the same, making a clear distinction between communications which amount to credible threats of violence, a targeted campaign of harassment or breach of court orders on the one hand, and other communications—for example, grossly offensive communications—on the other. The first group will be prosecuted robustly. Whereas cases in the second group, which meet the evidential stage, are unlikely to require a prosecution in the public interest if the sender expresses genuine remorse, the communication is swiftly removed, it is not intended for a wide audience or does not obviously go beyond what could conceivably be acceptable in a diverse society which upholds and respects freedom of expression.

Copies of the final guidelines have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.