CPS to crack down on online hate

Director of Public Prosecutions promises abuse will be treated as seriously as face-to-face offences


The Crown Prosecution Service has issued new guidelines requiring online hate crime to be treated as seriously as face-to-face offences.

The revised guidelines mean prosecutors will seek more severe penalties for abuse on social media.

The new rules come after MPs from across the major parties reported high levels of online hate and abuse. Luciana Berger, the Labour MP for Liverpool Wavertree, who is Jewish, was the target of a far-right online antisemitic campaign last year, targeting her as a “filthy Jewish bitch”. At the trial of man responsible, she told the court that she had received death threats, and felt “very much under attack”. 

Writing in the Guardian today, Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, said:

“Some may criticise the new approach and guidance for prosecutors as heavy-handed.

“But we must remember the common thread that links online purveyors of hate with those who commit physical hate crimes. That is, the desire to undermine and instil fear in those they target, both individually and collectively.

“When an ever greater amount of our time is spent online, it is only right that we do everything possible to ensure that people are protected from abuse that can now follow them everywhere via the screen of their smartphone or tablet. Whether shouted in their face on the street, daubed on a wall or tweeted into their living room, hateful abuse can have a devastating impact on victims”.

Commenting on the announcement, Danny Stone, director of the Antisemitism Policy Trust, said he was “delighted [the CPS] accepted the recommendation of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism from 2015, to update its social media guidance. This announcement is a welcome extension of that work.

“Our prosecutors and judges should have a full and detailed understanding of how online hate operates so that they can deal with it appropriately including through the use of Criminal Behaviour or Prevention Orders.

“Whilst a single victim may be targeted, online hate does not work in a vacuum. The next step is for the social media industry to step up to the mark, put its money where its mouth is and deliver real changes for combating online hate”.

Gillian Merron, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, welcomed the new guidelines.

She said: “This is a positive step towards tackling hate crime in the UK. Whether it is face to face or online, hate speech is illegal and must be treated as such. Social media companies must also continue to up their game in fighting hateful attitudes online and we will continue to raise this in our meetings with them.”

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