Stalking and revenge porn to become criminal offences

New legislation will extend definition of harassment to include online activity

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is to legislate to make stalking and revenge porn criminal offences.

Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald is to legislate to make stalking and revenge porn criminal offences.

 

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald is to legislate to make stalking, including cyberstalking, and revenge porn criminal offences.

Ms Fitzgerald received approval from Cabinet at its last meeting of the year to draft the Non-Fatal Offences (Amendment) Bill to address loopholes in current legislation.

The Minister will create two new criminal offences, including making it illegal to intentionally post intimate images of a person online without their consent.

The legislative change will also extend the offence of harassment to ensure it includes activity online and on social media.

It will also expand the offence of sending threatening or indecent messages to digital forms of communication.

The Tánaiste said the Government’s legislation followed a report by the Law Reform Commission, which recommended changes.

“The speed and scale of modern online communication can magnify the damage done by harmful communications,” said Ms Fitzgerald.

“Phenomena such as so-called revenge pornography and the publication of voyeuristic material can do serious and lasting harm at the touch of a button, and it is important that we act now to ensure our laws can deal effectively with these challenges.”

Consent

There is currently no legislation to address revenge porn in Ireland. Revenge porn is the common name for sharing photos or videos of a sexual nature of another person without their consent.

It is currently covered by the definition of harassment in the Non-Fatal Offences Against the State Act.

The Law Reform Commission report, which was published in September, identified a number of gaps in the legislation in particular in this area.

It found such abuses could have a substantial impact on a person, and could be linked to serious psychological harm.

The commission also proposed a statutory code of conduct for the digital industry in Ireland.

The Government believes the proposals have a number of implications, including for freedom of expression.

The Minister has said further consideration is required on the need to balance the right between privacy and freedom of expression.

Correct balance

“The work of the Law Reform commission has been very useful, and Government will now legislate to strike the correct balance between the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy,” she said.

The Law Reform Commission proposes the new and extended offences will carry, on summary conviction, the maximum penalties of a class A fine, currently a fine not exceeding €5,000, and/or up to 12 months’ imprisonment; and on conviction on indictment an unlimited fine and/or up to seven years’ imprisonment.

The Government has not yet made a decision on the sanctions, insisting they must be proportionate to the offence.

There is a belief civil law should be prioritised, and criminal law should only be used to deal with the most serious harm.

However, no decision has been made on this front, and Ms Fitzgerald is due to launch a consultation period before announcing the draft heads of the Bill.