Zach's Law moves a step closer to protecting people with epilepsy online
In a landmark report, MPs and peers are urging the government to introduce a new offence – Zach’s Law – to protect people with epilepsy from malicious posts designed to cause seizures.
And the Epilepsy Society believes it is the first time an offence has been proposed to specifically protect people with epilepsy.
The recommendation has been included in a report, published today, from a scrutiny committee tasked to examine the Draft Online Safety Bill. And it follows a lengthy campaign by the charity to bring internet trolls who target people with epilepsy, within the reach of the justice system.
The charity and its followers were the victims of a sustained and co-ordinated attack on Twitter, with keyboard criminals sending seizure-inducing flashing images to people with epilepsy. One of the first victims was Zach Eagling, then eight years old, who has become the figurehead of the campaign.
Clare Pelham, Chief Executive at the Epilepsy Society said: “The English Legal System is rightly famed as part of our ancient history and our heritage. But this recommendation shows that it is also innovative and world-leading.
“I am proud that our country is leading the way in bringing our values of courtesy and civility to the badlands of Social Media. So that the criminal law will protect vulnerable people from the keyboard warriors who bravely target disabled people behind a mask of anonymity, maliciously targeting people with epilepsy with flashing images designed to cause seizures. And that it will enable them to enjoy the online world in safety and security.
“We believe that Zach’s Law is the first offence ever specifically designed to protect people with epilepsy. And I hope that where we lead, the rest of the world will follow.
“I would like to thank the scrutiny committee for recognising the seriousness of this crime and supporting our call to safeguard people like Zach who was maliciously targeted, but who has stood up so bravely for what is right.”
Working with the Law Commission
The Epilepsy Society has worked closely with the Law Commission which recommended that a new offence to tackle malicious flashing images aimed at people with epilepsy, should be introduced.
The joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill has rubber stamped their recommendation, pointing out that the criminal law relating to online communication pre-dates the age of social media and modern search engines, and needs updating.
In its report, the parliamentary committee of 12 states MPs and peers want to see new a new offence on the statute book at the earliest opportunity: “We endorse the Law Commission’s recommendations for new criminal offences in its reports, Modernising Communications Offences and Hate Crime Laws. The reports recommend the creation of new offences in relation to … sending flashing images to people with photo-sensitive epilepsy with intent to induce a seizure.
“The Government must commit to providing the police and courts with adequate resources to tackle existing illegal content and any new offences which are introduced as a result of the Law Commission’s recommendations.”
Zach is a hero
Claire Keer, Zach Eagling’s mother said: “It is such a relief to see Zach’s Law as a recommendation in the report from the Joint Committee on the Draft Online Safety Bill. Ever since Zach was attacked online 18 months ago, we have been working with the Epilepsy Society to try and change the law and bring these criminals to justice.
“Zach has met with politicians, the Law Commission and editors of national newspapers. It has meant several days out of school. The recommendations in the report make every missed day worthwhile, not just for Zach but for the thousands of people with photosensitive epilepsy around the world who run the risk of a seizure every time they go online. Zach is only 10 but his persistence shows what can be achieved and that the law can and must be there to defend us.”
The government will now consider the committee’s recommendations, incorporating them where they feel they will strengthen the Online Safety Bill with a view to making Britain the safest place to go online.