High Threshold for Offensive Social Media Prosecutions

According to the director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer QC the Crown Prosecution Service guidelines proposed today will give a free hand to insolent and satirical comments.

The requirement of these guidelines is to make communications distinguishable- communications that may constitute credible threats of violence, harassment or stalking or may amount to a breach of a court order, and those that are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false.

The first three categories of offences should ‘be prosecuted robustly under the relevant legislation”, which is in this case Protection from Harassment Act. The other cases from the final category will be subject to a high threshold.

‘A prosecution is unlikely to be in the public interest if the communication is swiftly removed, blocked, not intended for a wide audience or not obviously beyond what could conceivably be tolerable or acceptable in a diverse society which upholds and respects freedom of expression,’ he said.

The guidelines remind that only in the cases when prosecutors agree that the communication in question is not only offensive but also satirical, distasteful and even shocking, just then they are able to take action under the Malicious Communications Act 1988 and section 127 of the Communications Act 2003. . On the other hand, if communication is proved to be offensive, indecent, unpopular or shocking but there is not enough evidence that there is violence or blackmailing then prosecutors are just warned to be considerably cautious.

The answer of a partner at Manches called Jonathan Snade was: ‘The key focus of the guidelines is on the need for prosecutors to draw a balance between criminal offences potentially committed (1) via communications which threaten violence to a person or damage to property, which specifically target individuals with harassment or blackmail and which may breach a court order (for example through an unlawful disclosure of information or a person’s identity) and (2) via those communications which do none of those things but which are nevertheless grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false.”

When talking about the latter category he meant that an important thing for CPS is the need for prosecutors to take into consideration the right to freedom of speech under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights and not on the last place that hundreds of millions nowadays use social media in order to communicate.

Due to the guidelines cases must be threshed out with their own facts. It is assumed that public interest shouldn’t be that big when the suspect is under 18 or the communication in question was swiftly removed from some social site.

13 March is the date when the public consultation on the guidelines will be closed.

Please check our Anti-bullying and Harassment Policy

Bullying, Harassment and Discrimination in the Legal Sector

It was recently stated by the Law Society that about every one out of six solicitors has been bullied in a way in the workplace. The main exploratory findings of the society’s 2012 omnibus report suggest that about 17% of solicitors have been harassed at work. The survey reveals a whole tale of cases of workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination. Highest percentage has been reported by those working in government (25%) and those working in commerce and industry (23%). Complains in the private practice are said to be around 16%. More than 1,600 individuals have participated in the survey and about 6% of those people have said that they have experience sexual harassment in the workplace. Another 10% have reported that they have been discriminated. This 10% represents 168 people who have experienced any kind of discrimination white at work. According to the survey, about 64% or nearly two thirds have attributed this to their sex, about 20% attributed it to their ethnic origin, and 19% to their social class and status. Other issues mentioned as reasons for discrimination included things such as religion, pregnancy, any kind of disability and sexual orientation.

The report also surveyed people based on the level of stress in the workplace. Of those 1,600 people, only 5% have reported that they do not experience any stress at work or feel that the environment is hostile and negative. As much as 65% have reported that that do experience either moderate or severe levels of stress. Solicitors who experience extreme stress at work place have been reported to account for only 4%. Last but not least, the survey also revealed that over the past twelve months only about 2% of solicitors have taken time off because of stress.

All the findings from the survey have been presented to the Society’s membership. The report along with the analysis made will serve as a basis for the Society’s membership board to develop a strategy and promote the solicitors’ wellbeing in the workplace. Kate Walmsley, the Society’s corporate responsibility specialist, has written a paper to the members of the board expressing a concern on the preliminary findings of the survey. She stated that the tales of harassment, bullying and also discrimination are too high and actions need to be taken. Ms. Walmsley said that even though rates were not as high as in other sectors, steps have to be made in order to improve the working environment of the solicitors. A strategy needs to be made and to address the question of issues such as discrimination, abuse and sexual harassment. This, as stated by the CSR specialist, is of tremendous importance not only to the people working in the legal sector, but also for the need to reduce any financial and reputational costs both to the profession and to the Law Society as a whole.

In conclusion, don`t foreget to download our Anti-bullying and Harassment Policy. Protect you and your colleagues!