We believe that free speech means that there are times when groups of people may be challenged or affected by comments that are made by individuals. For example, there are those who actively challenge religious views whether they be Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim or Sikh. We acknowledge that these discussions also depend on the context of the person making them and that dissent is fundamental to a free and democratic society.
What we are concerned about are those who seek to target individuals on-line, to harass, abuse or denigrate them because of a part of their identity, or when they seek to humiliate and harass them knowing that their actions will have negative impacts on the victim. With this in mind, we have developed material for members of the public on this area and we thank Dr Imran Awan for his direction and leadership in this area of work.
We therefore warmly welcome the proposals put forward by Chris Grayling which have been reported in the media. We have also called for better training for police forces on issues such as harassment which have been highlighted and which have blighted the lives of many people who have reported into us through the TELL MAMA project.
Also of importance is a proposed rise in the statute of limitations around time limits for acting on cases. This is an area that has affected some of our cases where action could not be taken since incident timescales crossed over the 6 month cut-off period. We welcome proposals that the period should be extended to 3 years and that incidents/crimes that take place within a 3 year period can be reported in and acted upon by law enforcement agencies.
The new proposals also raise sentencing for trolling and harassment from 6 months to 2 years. Again, we welcome these actions given the impacts on victims and the fear, anxiety and depression that they have caused in some people. In particular, we have worked with individuals who have had mental health difficulties and who have been unable to cope with repeated trolling and harassment. Such actions can lead to terrible impacts on people’s lives and we therefore welcome the proposed quadrupling in sentencing.
Additionally, these proposals if approved and extended into the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill will also mean that the Social Media Guidelines produced by the Crown Prosecution Service on prosecuting social media cases will have to change. The guidelines were released in mid 2013 and will need to be revised again, showing the speed of change and developments caused by social media platforms.
Lastly, we would like to make a plea to the Government. It seems that changes are proposed when well-known celebrities or personalities are affected by social media trolling. We would like to stress that projects like TELL MAMA have been working with people at a grass-roots level who have suffered such issues for years, though who have never had the chance for their cases to be highlighted through press sources. We therefore want to stress that policy should not be drafted on the back of celebrity cases but on the back of regular consultations with hate crime reporting organisations who are picking up such issues in real-time and at a grass-roots level. Nonetheless, these proposals are welcomed and much needed.