Malicious Communication and its Sentencing Guidelines

Malicious communication is an offence under the Malicious Communications Act 1988.  A person could be guilty of this offence if they send another person any form of indecent, threatening or offensive communication via phone, text, written letter or social media comments and messages, with the purpose of causing distress or anxiety to either the recipient or to other people they intend the content of the message to be communicated to.

The act aims to protect individuals from emotional harm and harassment, recognising that freedom of speech does not grant the right to abuse or threaten others. In this article, we'll outline recent malicious communication cases, how they are investigated and the sentencing guidelines.

Over the past few years, the number of cases involving malicious communication has increased significantly. This is primarily due to the rise of social media, which has become a platform for online harassment and abusive communication.

A survey conducted among girls aged 11-21 revealed that around 46% of them have reported offensive behaviour that could be categorised as malicious communication on Facebook.

The issue of malicious communication is certainly not limited to Facebook though. It has been reported that MP Jess Phillips received over 600 rape threats on Twitter. This highlights the severity of the problem, as even public figures can be targeted by such hateful and harmful messages.

There have been a number of high-profile cases of malicious communication that have resulted in fines and arrests. One such incident was during the Euro 2020 final when England was defeated by Italy. After three players missed penalties, they were targeted with racist abuse on social media. Four men were arrested for this abuse and a warning was issued to others that they would be tracked down as well.

In February 2024, a football fan was sentenced to 15 weeks in jail for posting racist abuse directed at an Everton supporter online. He was found guilty of malicious communications and was ordered to pay the victim £155. Additionally, he received a six-year ban from attending football matches.

The rise in malicious communication cases has put pressure on social media platforms used by perpetrators to deliver hateful messages. This has led to the introduction of the Online Safety Bill by the House of Commons in March 2022. The main purpose of the Online Safety Bill, now the Online Safety Act 2023, is to protect children and adults online by holding social media companies and other online platforms more accountable for user safety on their services.

How are Malicious Communication Cases Investigated?

Investigating allegations of malicious communication requires an approach that integrates legal expertise and technical proficiency. Law enforcement begins by verifying the nature of the communication and its compliance with the legal definition of maliciousness. This process involves gathering digital evidence, such as emails, text messages, social media posts, and IP data.

The complexity of these cases demands a level of technical skill when gathering and preserving evidence to ensure it meets the standards of admissibility in court. The intricate balance between privacy laws, the rights of the accused and the need to protect individuals from harm reflects the commitment to both justice and adherence to legal standards.

What are the Malicious Communication Sentencing Guidelines?

The sentencing for malicious communication reflects the gravity of the offense and the extent of harm caused to the victim. Judicial authorities establish guidelines that strive for proportionality, considering the severe impact on the victim while acknowledging mitigating factors like the defendant's mental health and prior character.

Sentences may vary widely, ranging from fines and community service to imprisonment in more severe cases. If the matter is heard in the Crown Court, the maximum sentence for the offence is two years imprisonment, or a fine, or both. If the matter is heard in the Magistrates’ Court, the maximum sentence is imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or a fine, or both.

At Draycott Browne, we recognise the gravity of malicious communication charges and their potential impact on your personal and professional life. If you or a loved one faces allegations of this nature, it is crucial to seek expert legal representation immediately.

Our highly skilled team of solicitors specialises in defending against malicious communication charges. We handle each case with the utmost confidentiality and professionalism, leveraging our legal expertise and thorough understanding of digital communication and privacy laws.

We are committed to providing exceptional service throughout the legal process. We will work tirelessly to achieve the best possible outcome and offer advice on mitigating potential penalties. Whether you seek to challenge the allegations against you or mitigate the consequences, Draycott Browne is here to assist you.

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