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A comprehensive list of intimidatory acts that are illegal offline but legal online.

Yesterday on Radio 4, Home Secretary Amber Rudd was the latest government minister calling for an overhaul of the criminal law in the name of tackling “intimidation and aggression” on the internet.

Her premise is that “what is illegal offline should also be illegal online”. This was repeated by Theresa May in a speech in Manchester.

The thrust of the complaint did not appear to be that existing laws are being poorly interpreted and enforced by police and prosecutors; nor that certain social media companies are famously reticent in providing information to prosecuting authorities; nor that the existing law is piecemeal and mishmash and could do with a jolly good refreshing and consolidating (all of which are undoubtedly true).

Rather it was that there is a special quality to the law that means that certain threats or abuse made over the internet simply do not amount to a criminal offence, and that new laws are required pursuant to the Something Must Be Done Act.

To help, I’ve cobbled together a comprehensive list of intimidatory acts that are illegal offline, but not illegal when committed over the internet:


















Footnote: The Law Commission has been asked to conduct a review into the existing law that will cover, among other things, this very issue. I am fully prepared to bow to the Commission’s wisdom if I’m wrong and made to look like a bit of a wally.🔷

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(This piece was first published at

The Secret Barrister is the author of a book "The Secret Barrister: Stories of the Law and How It's Broken" (to be published by Macmillan on 22 March 2018) available for pre-order on Amazon in print and eBook for Kindle.

(Cover: Dreamstime/Andreusk - Online anonymity on the internet.)

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The Secret Barrister is a junior barrister specialising in criminal law. Wears a black cape and fights crime. Not Batman. Best Independent Blog Winner, Comment Awards 2016 & 2017.
UK Criminal Courts Website

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