The number of prosecutions commenced under the Communications Act 2003 and the Malicious Communications Act 1988, which include many online offences, have increased by 68% in the past three years.
Latest figures show that the CPS successfully prosecuted 15,000 cases of hate crime in 2015-16. However, in the same year the number of cases referred to prosecutors by the police dropped by 10%. Can the Solicitor General explain why that should be?
The CPS is working with the police locally and nationally to understand the reasons for that. Anecdotally, it is believed that some police forces are using restorative justice or out-of-court disposals where they could have pursued prosecutions. Let me reassure the hon. Gentleman and make clear that it is unacceptable for any group or person to use the internet as a means to harass, intimidate or threaten individuals in an illegal manner online.
Thank you. Oh no, we cannot stop now. We must hear Mr Hollobone.
Which CPS area is best at prosecuting online abuse cases, and how might its best practice be rolled out to other areas?
I do not have area-by-area figures, but I will endeavour to supply them to my hon. Friend. On hate crime, sentencing uplifts have increased, and they continue to do so, to 52.2% of cases last year—a rise from 33.8% in the previous year.
What can be done to strip away the anonymity of online trolls who make life such a misery for people online?
That issue is being considered as part of the code of practice that is being established, pursuant to the Digital Economy Act 2017. That code will set out guidance on what social media providers should do regarding conduct on their platforms, which includes the behaviour referred to by my hon. Friend. He also raised the important issue of anonymity, and the individuals who hide behind that and use it as a cloak for their illegal activities. The prosecution will always seek to pierce that cloak and prosecute those responsible.
I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that Her Majesty has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts:
Finance (No. 2) Act 2017
Air Travel Organisers’ Licensing Act 2017
Northern Ireland Budget Act 2017
New Southgate Cemetery Act 2017.
I am sure that the Northern Ireland Budget Act 2017 will be of great interest in particular to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), when he has concluded his intense and, I am sure, extremely urgent conversation with the hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane).