Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.




Comments are usually moderated. However, I do not accept any legal responsibility for the content of any comment. If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Monday, 20 October 2014

COMMUNICATIONS ACT (2003) s.127; MAXIMUM SENTENCE TO INCREASE TO 2 YEARS




Improper use of public electronic communications network



(1)A person is guilty of an offence if he—

(a)sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character; or

(b)causes any such message or matter to be so sent.

(2)A person is guilty of an offence if, for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety to another, he—

(a)sends by means of a public electronic communications network, a message that he knows to be false,

(b)causes such a message to be sent; or

(c)persistently makes use of a public electronic communications network.

(3)A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both.

(4)Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to anything done in the course of providing a programme service (within the meaning of the Broadcasting Act 1990 (c. 42)).



This is currently a summary only offence with convictions as follows:-

Between 25/07/2003 and 31/12/2011  5,316 people were  found guilty at magistrates` courts in England and Wales of offences under section 127. These figures  include obscene telephone calls and text messages as well as internet-based communications. The figures available cannot distinguish between communications to an individual (such as a phone call) or the public (such as a Twitter post).[3]

Section 127 cases, England and Wales

2003
2004
2005
2006
2007
2008
2009
2010
2011
2012
2013
Proceeded against
0
214
355
550
680
872
126
1511
(2000+)[4]
?
2000[5]
Found guilty

143
260
377
498
693
873
1186
1286 (1309)
1423
?
Conviction ratio %

67
73
69
73
79
78
78
(<64)
?
?



In simple language Section 127 provides that it is an offence (and thereby means that a person can be arrested, charged, convicted, sentenced, and obtain a criminal record) if a person sends "a message or other matter" which is "grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character" by means of a "public electronic communications network".



Our esteemed Chris Grayling has this weekend secured his desired headlines by announcing changes to the above Act insofar as it shall become an either way offence with a maximum term of imprisonment increased from the current six months to two years.  Like much criminal legislation the maximum sentence for any offence is intended as much as a deterrent to the committing of that offence as a punishment.  IMHO it is not difficult to conclude that this increase in sentencing availability is based not upon logical understanding of the behaviour involved and the requirement to modify that of possible offenders but to pander to what he assumes is public prejudice aroused by a few particularly nasty cases.   In 2012 under the Section only 201 offenders  received custodial sentences.  If the current sentencing guidelines are not employed to the maximum what changes are to be expected?  If that small number jailed for the offence were to be replicated when the new maximum is  available are we to assume that Crown Court judges will step up their punishment?  Will juries be as ready to convict with two year jail terms on the horizon as magistrates do now at a highly efficient  rate of around 70%?  And most significantly will the possibility of conviction at Crown Court deter those possible offenders from making their sometimes odious on line remarks as opposed to the current situation, which is so rarely warranted,  of six months maximum at the magistrates` court.  “I hae ma doots”, as Boswell said to Dr. Johnson.

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