New U.K. Prosecutorial Guidelines Touch on 'Obscene' Communications

Rhett Pardon

LONDON — The U.K.'s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) last week issued new guidelines on prosecuting cases involving communications sent via social media.

One section of the new guidelines hone in on communications sent via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social networks that are "grossly offensive, indecent or  obscene" in criminal prosecutions.

But within those same guidelines, the federal agency, which is responsible for public prosecutions of those charged with criminal offenses in England and Wales, fails to define "grossly offensive, indecent or obscene."

Instead, the guidelines — without clarity — state that "indecent" and "grossly offensive" are "said to be ordinary English words."

The new guidelines set out the approach U.K. prosecutors should take when making decisions in relation to cases where it is alleged that criminal offenses have been committed by the sending of a communication via social media, the CPS says.

"The guidelines are designed to give clear advice to prosecutors who have been asked either for a charging decision or for early advice to the police, as well as in reviewing those cases which have been charged by the police," the CPS says. "Adherence to these guidelines will ensure that there is a consistency of approach across the CPS."

A person guilty of "grossly offensive, indecent or obscene" communication via  a social network can face imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine or both.