The DPP in the UK has published interim guidelines to assist prosecutors in deciding whether criminal offences have been committed on social media forums. They apply not only to the sending of communications but also to the resending (or retweeting) of communications.
There will be an assessment to distinguish between communications:
- Constituting credible threats of violence
- Which specifically target an individual or may constitute harassment or stalking
- In breach of a court order
- Which are grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false
Those communications falling within the ‘grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or false’ category will be subjected to a higher threshold before prosecutions, in the public interest, will be deemed necessary. The guidelines follow the overturning of Paul Chambers’ conviction in 2012. Chambers was convicted of sending a message of menacing charter when he tweeted the following message:
“…Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your s*** together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”
His conviction was overturned on the basis that the tweet did not constitute a message of menacing character.
Interestingly, the guidance provides that prosecutors should only proceed where they are satisfied that the communication is more than:
- Offensive, shocking or disturbing
- Satirical, iconoclastic or rude
- The expression of unpopular or unfashionable opinion about serious or trivial matters, or banter or humour, even if distasteful to some or painful to those subjected to it
In Ireland, the judiciary has urged the Government to introduce legislation making it a criminal offence to post “patently untrue” allegations on the internet. These comments were made when a judge granted solicitor Damian Tansey a number of orders allowing for the termination of the rate-your-solicitor.com website. It will be interesting to see whether the DPP in Ireland will follow suit.