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Internet Trolling: Prosecution Rates

Volume 653: debated on Thursday 31 January 2019

5. What steps the CPS is taking to improve prosecution rates for offences related to internet trolling. (908918)

12. What steps the CPS is taking to improve prosecution rates for offences related to internet trolling. (908925)

I recognise that internet trolling can have devastating effects on victims, and where an offence has been committed, the CPS response will be robust. The number of prosecutions commenced for offences under the Communications Act 2003 and the Malicious Communications Act 1988 has increased by over 20% in the last three years, and last year the CPS published revised guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media.

We all know in this job how harrowing and tough trolling and online abuse can be. When I visit schools in my constituency, young people tell me that they not only experience a lot of online abuse but see it happening to people in jobs that they might aspire to and worry about the level of abuse they might face if they went into such jobs. What is being done to ensure that online abuse is given the serious treatment that other types of abuse is given, so that people can see that it will not be taken lightly?

The hon. Lady is right to point to the concern about the younger generation being disincentivised from coming forward, particularly into public service. That should worry us all as parliamentarians and legislators. I can reassure her that the CPS has worked hard to develop new guidance for prosecutors, which makes it clear that online abuse is just as bad as offline abuse; there is no distinction in law. Where communications amount to credible threats of violence, prosecutions will commence. I know that Members are concerned about the balance between freedom of expression and prosecutions, and I assure the hon. Lady that that matter is very much in my mind as we develop further guidelines to assist not only parliamentarians but everybody in public life.

On 8 January, the Petitions Committee produced its report, “Online abuse and the experience of disabled people”. Will the Solicitor General look at that report and ensure that every step is taken to prosecute cases of online abuse against disabled people?

The hon. Lady may know that I have a particular passion about combating disability hate crime. I have met disability organisations in her region—the wonderful north-east—and learned a lot from them about the importance of ensuring that they have the confidence to report crime. I have read the Petitions Committee report. It is excellent, and I am noting in particular the actions that the CPS needs to take.

Does the Solicitor General agree that, while robust action is needed through the courts and the CPS, there is also an enormous responsibility for those who hold public office and offices that command responsibility to call this sort of behaviour out?

My hon. Friend is right. There can be no moral relativism when it comes to abuse, whatever type it may be and from whatever quarter it comes.