Criminal law can’t keep up with the digital world

The Law Commission have reported that online communications law is incoherent and fails to protect victims of abuse from harassment online.

The study was commissioned by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and calls for the reform and consolidation of existing criminal legislation dealing with offensive and abusive communications.

The report highlighted the fact that police and prosecutors often have to deal with a number of overlapping offences and loose terminology when dealing with crimes committed on social media and that this does not provide sufficient legal clarity.

According to the Office of National Statistics, around 96% of people aged 16 to 24 now use social media, and it is evident that criminal law hasn’t been able to keep up with the growth of the digital landscape.

One of the reasons why criminal law may be struggling to deal with social media related crime and abuse could be down to the nature of social media itself. With the freedom of expression and the difficulties of reading further in to typed text, it is hard to distinguish whether a view expressed is a joke and whether it should count as criminal conduct.

The report also looked at different types of abuse, pile on” harassment, where multiple users are sending constant abuse to another user online. Future reforms could consider whether the conduct associated with “pile on” harassment, such as coordinating and inciting this behaviour, could be more effectively targeted.

Overall, the report has highlighted some ways in which criminal law isn’t quite keeping up with the advancement in technology over the years. It is important that going forward criminal law should provide equal protection against abuse regardless of whether it is online or offline.

Despite there being an evident need for reform, the development of new laws and practices could be revolutionary, allowing legal professionals from a range of backgrounds to be pioneers in digital law.