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Criminal Law Commissioner vows to tackle trolls targeting people with epilepsy

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Nicola Swanborough

Criminal Law Commissioner vows to tackle trolls targeting people with epilepsy

Criminal Law Commissioner, Professor Penney Lewis, has warned that anyone who sends flashing images to people with epilepsy, provoking a seizure, could potentially be guilty of an offence such as assault causing actual bodily harm.

And she is encouraging all those who have been targeted on social media with malicious posts designed to provoke a seizure, to share their experiences with her, so that the Law Commission can help to ensure they are better protected by the law.

The Law Commission has just published proposals to reform the law so that abusive online behaviour targeted at a range of groups of people, including those with epilepsy, can be tackled through the criminal justice system. And she believes that there is still more the Commission can do.

Actual bodily harm

Prof Lewis told the Epilepsy Society: “As the internet and social media have become an everyday part of our lives, there has been an increase in abuse targeted at a range of groups including people with epilepsy.  

“Our proposals aim to tackle this harmful behaviour and we hope to hear from those targeted in this way so that we can better protect them from this abuse. We know that someone who sends flashing images to a person with epilepsy, thereby causing a seizure, could potentially be guilty of an offence against the person, for example assault causing actual bodily harm. But there is more we can do.”

Your chance to comment

The Law Commission’s proposals for reform are published in their consultation paper, Harmful Online Communications: The Criminal Offences and members of the public are being asked to give their feedback by 18 December 2020.

Nicola Swanborough, Acting Head of External Affairs at the Epilepsy Society, said: “This is a great opportunity for people with epilepsy to make their voices heard and to ensure that the changes we have been campaigning for to address online abuse, become enshrined in law.

“It is really encouraging to see that the Law Commission has appreciated the danger and distress that internet trolls are causing people with epilepsy, and we very much value Professor Lewis’s determination to do more.”

Criminalise harmful behaviour

The Law Commission’s proposals include reforms to two acts: The Malicious Communications Act 1988 and the Communications Act 2003. They would criminalise behaviour where a communication is likely to cause harm.

This would cover emails, social media posts and WhatsApp messages, in addition to pile-on harassment (when a number of different individuals send harassing communications to a victim).

The first new offence relates to sending or posting a communication that is likely to cause harm to a particular audience. It would apply where a defendant intends to harm, or is aware of a risk of harming when sending or posting a communication. The offence does not require proof that anyone was actually harmed.

The audience could include the recipient of a message, the defendant’s social media followers or other people – for example, someone else who sees a harmful tweet on Twitter.

Full consultation paper

You can read the full consultation paper and summary here.

All responses to the consultation should be emailed to:

Or by post to Online Communications Team, Law Commission, 1st Floor, Tower, 52 Queen Anne’s Gate, London, SW1H 9AG. If you send your comments by post, it would be helpful if, whenever possible, you could also send them by email.

Epilepsy Society will shortly be sharing some guidance on the consultation questions, key points and how to respond to the paper. These will be shared across our social media platforms @EpilepsySociety




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