Government commits to making Zach's Law a specific offence
It was a major win in parliament today for our Zach's Law campaign, when Minister Chris Philp gave his unequivocal commitment to introduce a stand-alone offence to tackle internet trolls who maliciously target people with epilepsy.
The Epilepsy Society has been campaigning for more than two years for a change in the law after trolls began a vicious and sustained attack, targeting people with epilepsy with flashing images designed to trigger seizures.
Although Zach’s Law has been unanimously supported by MPs from all political parties, its inclusion in the Online Safety Bill and the wording of a possible offence, has been widely debated. While clause 150 of the Bill addressed the psychological harm caused by a seizure, it did not recognise the potential for physical harm.
But today, pressed by heartfelt calls from MPs Kim Leadbeater, Dean Russell and Caroline Ansell at the Online Safety Bill scrutiny committee, Chris Philp, Minister for the Digital Economy, promised that new and separate legislation would be introduced, in line with the recommendation of the Law Commission.
He said he would now be getting cross-government agreement as to which legislative vehicle the offence would sit in, and hoped to come back to the House by report stage. He also said he would be working with experts at the Epilepsy Society to draft legislation.
Kim Leadbeater is the MP for 11-year-old Zach Eagling, one of the first victims of the online trolls and the figurehead of our Zach’s Law campaign. She called on the Government to amend the Bill to include physical as well as psychological harm.
Although the amendment was turned down, along with a similar amendment from MP Paul Maynard, she was pleased to see that the pressure she brought to the debate, resulted in a major win for Zach’s Law.
She said: “I believe this Bill was a perfect legislative vehicle to bring in Zach’s Law. But while I am disappointed that the government has refused this opportunity to change the law, I am glad that my amendment has led the Minister to make a firm commitment to act. I will be keeping up the pressure to ensure that Zach’s Law is brought in with the minimum possible delay.”
"Zach is my hero"
Zach’s Mum, Claire Keer, who has campaigned relentlessly to shut down the trolls with new legislation, said: “I am so happy to hear that the Government have committed to enacting Zach’s Law in full. We have said all along that there must be a standalone offence and we were delighted that this has now been accepted by Ministers.
“Zach is my hero and always will be. I am delighted that at the age of 11, he is on the verge of changing the law. I ask the Government to draft this offence as a matter of urgency.”
A first for epilepsy
Nicola Swanborough, Head of External Affairs at the Epilepsy Society reiterated the praise: “We were thrilled to hear the government give their unequivocal commitment to Zach’s Law.
“A huge thanks to Kim Leadbeater for holding the Government’s feet to the flames on this issue and ensuring that the voice of her constituent – 11-year-old Zach Eagling – was heard in parliament.
“This offence will be a first in epilepsy and is a real win for everyone who has joined us on our Zach’s Law campaign, particularly the MPs who have given us their unfailing support. Most importantly, it will make social media a safer place for the 600,000 people with the condition in the UK.
“We now urge the government to enact this legislation without delay.”