back to article Top prosecutor warns troll-hunting cops not to choke courts

The director of public prosecutions has warned that millions of offences citing section 127 of the 2003 Communications Act* could end up in court if cops handing out charges fail to approach such cases in a measured way. Keir Starmer, who was talking at an Internet Service Provider Association (ISPA) conference in London on …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    harden the **** up

    I honestly find the idea of arresting somebody or saying something you don't like online is ludicrous. I mean for got sake, it's an image and some words, big freakin' whoop. Is it in bad taste? Yeah, but that's it. I mean for fuck sake. I'm going to slit the throat of the first person who replies to this.

    Is that malicious intent? Am I now going to have the police arrest me for threatening somebody anonymously who i've never met and probably never will?

    The only reason the police are going after these people is to make themselves look competent, now they can say with great gusto "in the last year we've made X more successful arrests" and the people will go oooh wow amazing. Meanwhile arrests of actual criminals have dropped as they start hunting down these cyber bullies.

    Hey what about Jeremy Clarkson. Didn't he say that all the bankers should be taken out and shot in front of their families? Wasn't that far more malicious, get far more attention. Hasn't he also said on numerous occasions that if a cyclist is in front of him on the road and didn't get out the way he'd run them over?

    What about the comedians like frankie boyle who routinelymake jokes about killing people, or people getting killed, aren't they breaking the law in donig so?

    No? These figures in the public eye who say this stuff on TV, in public, they aren't breaking any laws? And yet a kid, who does something very similar online, where only a select number of people will see it is a criminal who needs resources wasted on them because of how naughty they are.

    Bravo, just bravo on the double standards, and I hope that the money wasted on this shit comes out of your paychecks the next time a load of cops are fired or forced to resign because they wanted to go after the easy cases of kids being twats rather than iuno, stopping actual crime.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: harden the **** up

      AC. Seemed wise.

      1. hplasm

        Re: harden the **** up

        Sounds correct though.

    2. ukgnome

      Re: harden the **** up

      I do not fear this law or the enforcement of it. And to prove it.....

      The AC OP is a ninny and a twonk that uses words like fuck to antagonise people, his sort should be taken outside, tied to a lamp post and be violated with a traffic cone.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      arresting people

      Another point: Even if it made sense to prosecute people for these "offences", why do they have to be arrested? It's still possible to charge people without arresting them, isn't it? People aren't really likely to flee the country when faced with charges like this, are they?

      My theory: Arrest is being systematically abused as a form of extra-judicial punishment in the UK.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: arresting people

        It's not a theory, that's what is going on. To arrest, an officer needs a PACE S24(5) reason, in addition to suspecting that an offence has been committed by that person. In practice most of the more ludicrous arrests are purportedly under PACE S24(5)(e), "to allow the prompt and effective investigation of the offence or of the conduct of the person in question".

        I say purportedly, because PACE actually says the arrest must be *necessary* for that purpose, which it clearly isn't just to question someone, if the person is prepared to say "no comment" at home, or to visit the station and say "no comment" there.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: arresting people

        >why do they have to be arrested?

        DNA database - Fill in the blanks yourself.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: arresting people

          It is my understanding that such an arrest automatically confers the right to a house search. A magistrate might demur to issue a stand-alone search warrant without any evidence. So - such an arrest allows smartphones and PCs etc to be taken away for several weeks for analysis of browser activity, images, and thumbnails etc. How many times have failed raids on unrelated grounds trumpeted the discovery of a single slightly dubious thumbnail - especially after they have shot the owner?

          There is apparently no comeback on the police if they find nothing for which the CPS will allow a charge. Complain and the local press will possibly get tipped off with a smear. Even without a complaint the PC is liable to come back with the psu switched to 110vac. I've had to repair someone's PC after that happened.

          People in these cases are rarely called "innocent" in police press statements - just "insufficient evidence to charge". After that you can forget a "fast" visa for the USA or an advanced CRB check.

          The Police are under pressure to deliver statistics to satisfy the spin of politicians and media. One can't really blame them for the all too human failure of producing "results" to further their careers.

          Elected PCCs are unlikely to improve that situation.

    4. unwarranted triumphalism
      Thumb Down

      Re: harden the **** up

      'Hasn't he also said on numerous occasions that if a cyclist is in front of him on the road and didn't get out the way he'd run them over?'

      No, actually he never said that, nice try though.

    5. LarsG


      To be arrested for hurting someone's feelings or disagreeing with someone's point of view?

      That is the question.

      Shit, there's no hope for anyone is there!

    6. liam burrows

      Re: harden the **** up

      Why should I harden up just to please you and your troll friends? Don't I have the right to peaceful enjoyment of the internet? Or are you claiming that the internet has no space for those who wish to pursue their interests without being abused by idiots?

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: harden the **** up

        Liam Burrows, I REPORT YOU!

  2. Phil W

    Frankie Boyle does in fact post offensive jokes and comments on twitter often, but the police won't arrest him because Frankie is popular and arresting him would make them look bad.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I dread to think

      how the police could look any worse than they do now

      1. Phil W

        Re: I dread to think

        Pink and orange uniforms? with Burberry flat caps?

  3. Anonymous John

    "He went on to make a leap of logic by suggesting that the end result could lead to millions of trolling offences being prosecuted in courts across the country."

    Well it could. I didn't fight and die in two world wars for a country where you could be arrested for burning a poppy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @Anonymous John - Obligatory reply

      >I didn't fight and die in two world wars

      You wer' lucky. We wur shot at t'break o' dawn, sent t'medic who gi us a plaster, then sent o'er t trench to die five times aggen afore breakfast...

  4. LinkOfHyrule

    Heroin smoking FAIL is all

    Dude, you're not supposed to smoke the bloody poppy itself!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Lets hope they don't look at this forum.

    *you aint seen me, right!

  6. EddieD


    Flood them with enough complaints and maybe they'll take another look and actually start specifying the limits of offence, rather than using the arbitrary judge of individual bias, sorry, police discretion?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Prosecute enough trolls and trolling will become a less popular game.

  7. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Uuuh - Oh, here come the FPNs

    > millions of trolling offences being prosecuted in courts across the country.

    Just like the millions of speeding offences.

    When the flood of "criminals" gets too big for the slow, indolent, tradition-bound courts to handle the solution has generally been to pass the responsibility down from judges with legal backgrounds to well-meaning but unqualified JPs and then as the load increases further, to individuals in various uniforms who make the decisions themselves and hand out fixed penalty notices (though these can be challenged, but the "prize" for losing is a much greater punishment - not to mention inconvenience and high cost of defence, so most people just roll over and stump up even if they feel they have a good case).

    So can we now expect your local plod to glance at your phone / tablet / computer, make an arbitrary decision of random quality and stick an £80 fine to your screen? At least with speeding tickets there's some sort of machine that takes away most of the decision making process (apart from the decision of which vehicle to point it at) so there's at least the semblance of impartiality or equality. When making snap decisions over whether a tweet, image, or website is "good" or "bad", there could be no such objectivity and the coppers' "gut" would rule.

    I can't decide though, whether even that low, low measure for our legal quality is better than the alternative of having a government originated web crawler performing the internet's equivalent of a speed camera and completely automating the whole mess. Maybe the best alternative is for people to stop being so intolerant of others - live and let live.

    1. Neil B

      Re: Uuuh - Oh, here come the FPNs

      "well-meaning but unqualified JP's"

      This is unnecessarily patronising. Local Magistrates are in fact perfectly qualified to dispose of the cases that fall under their purview. They have very little latitude in sentencing and are advised on stickier points of law by a Clerk with, indeed, a "legal background".

      Summary justice dispensed off the cuff by PC's without the experience or objectivity to do so is, I completely agree, a trend we should all be worried about.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Uuuh - Oh, here come the FPNs

        "They have very little latitude in sentencing and are advised on stickier points of law by a Clerk with, indeed, a "legal background"."

        Which means they have to stick to the letter of the law and sentencing as advised by the Clerk. Defendants often elect to take the risk of a Crown Court where a judge may have more lattitude - and a jury might be loathe to convict on the basis of "there but for the grace of God". However that also raises the penalty if found guilty.

        The defendant at Crown Court may then be offered what is effectively a plea bargain - plead guilty for probation - fight the case and face a jail term. In the former case a judge has been known to offer his sympathy to the defendant over his hands being tied by "minimum sentencing" rules.

        A few years ago an English police force was routinely arresting people using a traditional naturist beach. Many law-abiding citizens accepted the police caution on their record - rather than face the publicity of an assured court case for "indecent exposure". Yet the police knew that the CPS were constantly refusing to bring charges in those cases.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Uuuh - Oh, here come the FPNs

      "hand out fixed penalty notices (though these can be challenged, but the "prize" for losing is a much greater punishment"

      What the...? You've got to be kidding me! Is the penalty N, or is it not? How, exactly, is the gravity of the offense retroactively modified by the accused's desire to contest the accusation?

      That's just fucked up. I mean... totally and utterly fucked up.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    "Among other things, he indicated that advice would include considering whether the alleged offence received a bad reaction from a large audience of people online."

    Oh, yeah, that'll work out reeeeally well...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Just imagine.

      Any comment about Apple or Android immediately causes offence (as judged by down votes). We will be in a situation where nobody can say anything about either of them (might not be a bad idea actually).

    2. David Hicks

      Brilliant ain't it?

      Now whether you committed and offence or not could come down entirely to how many people get their knickers in a twist, and whether or not your dumbass mate forwarded it somewhere.


      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        But where do the offended people have to come from?

        what if I post a message stating I believe a certain religion is doing something I find very offensive...

        I will offend the entire religion probably...

        But then again they have offended ME by their practice.. who is right?

        I believe we should have the right to say things that are offensive, while I might not agree with everyone's opinion, you should be allowed to voice your opinion..

        I am offended nearly every time David Camroon publicly speaks, can I have him arrested? Please?

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As a former bobby..

    you could apply this to ANY law....

    Let me recount a whole day I waste in an estate in Ealing, West London, going back and forth between apartments where people kept showing me text messages that said "I gun get you" and "you gun pay bruv" and saying they were threatening... 4 hours of my shift was spent shuttling between the apartments, the other 4 was spent filing "crimint" notices on two unemployed people who had nothing better to do than insult each other via text message....

  10. wowfood

    What about

    if somebody posts a semi nude pic on twitter, perhaps under the guise of art..

    If they have a 13 year old subscribed to their twitter feed, would that count as supplying pornographic content to a minor?

    1. JimmyPage

      Re: What about

      very likely yes.

      1. wowfood

        Re: What about

        *starts to delete half of his twitter posts*

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Re: What about

        Dear Mr Page,

        Could I request your opinion on another item that may be deemed offensive. I am planning to get a pair of swimming shorts with a life-size GOATSIE image printed on the back. Good idea or not.


        Concerned of Alvechurch, Worcs.


        PS. Has anybody done this already? If not, why not?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What about

          Offensive clothing is now prosecuted - and I don't mean green velvet flares and desert boots.

          The moth-eaten T-shirts in my drawer from the 1970s souvenir shops include several like "I'm a virgin but this is an old T-shirt" - or a black silhouette of a couple with the text "69 - try it you'll like it". Some are actually quite innocent in their literal sense - but people often seemed to read them as innuendo. There was one I didn't buy of Captain Haddock and TinTin.

          No way would I risk wearing anything other than a smiley motif in the street nowadays.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: What about

            My wife has one shirt showing the end of a bed, with four feet sticking out of the covers in a fairly obvious way, and a gun holster hung over the bed post. It's captioned, "FEEL SECURE - TAKE A COP TO BED".

            She has another one with a drawing of an... amply-endowed... woman in police regalia, titled, "COPS LOVE A BIG BUST!"

            They were her dad's. He was a cop. She wears them all the time. I think it's awesome.

  11. Graham Marsden

    You do not have the right... not be fucking offended!!

    To quote Stephen Fry: 'It's now very common to hear people say, "I'm rather offended by that", as if that gives them certain rights. It's no more than a whine. It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. "I'm offended by that." Well, so fucking what?'

    But now, it seems, we have idiots decided that they *do* have the right to not be offended and they're going to use (or abuse) the law to shut up people who say things they don't like!

    1. Pete 2 Silver badge

      I'm rather offended by that

      You raise an interesting point. I have a semi-formed theory that in order to find a statement offensive you have to believe it - at least in some small part. If you have an unshakable faith that the statement made has no foundation whatsoever, you simply do what people have done throughout the ages and shrug it off - possibly with a mutterance under your breath regarding the solo entertainments that the maker may (or may not) indulge in. It's only when part of your brain thinks "OMG, that's true ... tick ... tick ... clang! ... I'm offended" (which is really anger turned inwards in recognition that someone's found a fault) that the offense is registered.

      If one had the inclination (and the ability to run away, terribly fast) it might be possible to test this on strangers. Simply go up to someone you don't know and say "your shoes look like two garden gnomes". On the basis that they bear no resemblance to aforementioned ornamentation, the wearer might reply "wot chew onna 'bout?", or just simply "Wah?". However if you make a comment that could possibly be pertinent to their footwear: tears, a smack in the mouth, or the "I'm offended" retort could well be the result.

      Maybe it's time we stopped believing all the nonsense that other people randomly remark to us, start feeling more positive (a good thing to do any way) and and secure about ourselves and think up a few infallible put-downs instead of setting ourselves up as victims and turning hurt feelings into a criminal offence.

    2. liam burrows

      Re: You do not have the right...

      I may not have the right not to be offended, but by the same token do not have the right to be offensive, and it just so happens that my right not to be the victim of your offensiveness is enshrined in law. You might not like it, but tough.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: You do not have the right...

        But no-one on the Internet cares about your inner state of mind or whether you consider yourself to be part of the "victimhood", so f*ck off.

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: You do not have the right...

        The problem is that "offence" is a matter of the receiver's perspective. One can't be guaranteed to know a person's background, personal circumstances, and state of mind. When revising some public order laws a few years ago - a hypothetical "most vulnerable" person was taken as the criterion. They didn't even need to have been present - in fact no one needed to have been present.

        There is a trend in such cases to remove the need for "intent" to be proved. The police and single issue pressure groups say that is "too difficult" in many cases.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The problem is the law itself, not the interpretation or execution of it. Nothing short of rewriting the law will suffice. Here is my suggestion amendment to Section 127 of the Communications Act 2003:

    Old text: "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;"

    New text: "sends by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive and of an indecent, obscene and menacing character;"

    Old text: "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))."

    New text: "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)), or to social media, which has the same legal status as speech and not as electronic communication."

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Law definitions

    "... an indecent, obscene and menacing character..."

    But where is the precise definition of indecent or obscene? Unless one uses the old Oz magazine definition "whatever turns the Judge on".

  14. David 45

    Freedom of speech?

    I would agree that the burning poppy incident is doubtless in bad taste and probably just a bit of stupid trolling but who decides that this act of foolishness has transformed or mutated into an arrestable "offence"? Just where do you draw the line? The Robin Hood airport "blowing up" so-called threat comes to mind. This sounds suspiciously like the thin end of a very large wedge where anybody could get arrested for posting mere derogatory comments, bad-taste jokes or just their opinion. Smells a bit of the beginning (if it hasn't started already!) of a police state to me.

  15. Stratman

    Being offended doesn't make you right

    See above,

  16. Robin Bradshaw

    There are people deserving of this law they just arent going after them.

    "Section 127(2) targets false messages and persistent misuse intended to cause annoyance, inconvenience or needless anxiety."

    Well if they have these powers why the hell aren't they going after ISP's with their outright lies like Unlimited* and upto 16megabit* and anything else that has an asterisk of bullshit after it. They are false messages that cause a great deal of annoyance and inconvenience.

    And how about all the infuriating robocalls about loft insulation/ppi/switching utility providers/hearing loss claims and especially those twats with the awfull voip lines from india pretending to be microsoft support.

    If your going to interpret a law overly broadly to increase your statistics you could at least do it in a way that benefits the public.

  17. liam burrows

    "The director of public prosecutions has warned that millions of offences citing section 127 of the 2003 Communications Act* could end up in court if cops handing out charges fail to approach such cases in a measured way."

    Presumably the same sort of measured approach should be applied to crimes such as burglary and violence, which also end up in the courts? If not, why not?

    I'm appalled by Starmer's approach to this. If evidence suggests a crime has been committed then it should be taken to the courts. It isn't in Starmer's remit to decide that some crimes are unworthy of due process of law.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "If evidence suggests a crime has been committed then it should be taken to the courts."

      Any law which results in more cases than can be handled is obviously out of step with public opinion. Effectively mass civil disobedience is a sign of instability in a society. Such laws are usually temporarily suspended by guidance from the DPP or the Home Secretary before being reformed or repealed. Otherwise they risk bringing about disrespect for the whole system.

      1. liam burrows

        "Any law which results in more cases than can be handled is obviously out of step with public opinion."

        Of course it isn't. If there are more cases than can be handled that may simply reflect on the inability of the legal system to fulfil its function. And I would argue that this is exactly what is happening. Public opinion is very much that the trolls are a menace which need to be dealt with. Unfortunately, we don't have enough policemen or courts to deal with the abusers.

        "Effectively mass civil disobedience is a sign of instability in a society."

        Not in this case because what we are still talking about a vanishingly small number of idiots with very loud mouths who think it is appropriate to abuse others over the internet. The vast majority of internet users are more than capable of keeping a civil tongue in their mouths whilst exercising their free speech. But their voices often get drowned out by the loud squawking of the troll idiot army

  18. The Grump

    Victoria's Secret ...

    had a model in an American Indian headress (and not much else), and she looked super sexy. Then the stupid American Indians told Victoria's Secret that they were "offended", and ruined the whole thing for everyone. I wish I'd been there - I fist to the gob would have set that Indian right. Knock him on his red Indian behind, I would. Then I'd go and have a pint to celebrate it.

    I am easily offended by people who are easily offended.

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