Christopher Ireland reports on the recent lecture by Professor David Ormerod touching on the Law Commission’s work around online harm and abuse
After an introduction from Shayhan Patelmaster, chair of the SCL Junior Lawyers Group, Professor David Ormerod began with a brief outline of what role the Law Commission plays in society, acting as an independent body for legal reform in England and Wales. He also highlighted the caveat of the Commission’s work that the Government must have expressed a serious intention to take forward law reform in this area before work commences. He then outlined the origins of the recently published Scoping Report:
The origins of the report
“The development of the internet has caused a seismic shift in the way we communicate as a society and has brought with it the potential for harm and offence on a huge scale. Online activity is used to humiliate, control and threaten victims as well as to plan and orchestrate acts of violence” - CPS 2018
David then moved on to discuss the impetus behind the Law Commission’s work in this area, detailing the current climate of offensive communications where a lack of clarity and understanding of the law has created a “wild west” of online abuse. It was clear from around six months ago, when the Prime Minister commissioned phase 1 of the report, that there was a need for reform.
What makes online and offline different?
The focus of the evening then turned to the key differences between offensive communication in an offline and online setting. In particular, the following key areas were highlighted as being drastically different online.
What should the focus of reform be?
Following a brief overview of the existing applicable law, David moved onto the Commission’s recommendations on what areas of the law require reform.
David closed his presentation by stressing that the Commission had not had enough time to suggest meaningful solutions to the aforementioned issues. The Law Commission is currently discussing the commencement of a possible phase 2 of the report with Government. He also recommended that any solutions should be future-proofed to avoid the inevitable evolution of current technology, that is likely to leave the law once again trailing behind.
The second element of the evening comprised of a discussion between David and attendees at the event. The following points were amongst those addressed:
A summary and the report itself can be found on the Law Commission website.
About the Speaker: Professor David Ormerod is a Professor at QMU and Commissioner for Criminal Law at the Law Commission. He tweets as @OrmerodDavid.
Christopher Ireland is currently SCL Student Ambassador at the University of Southampton but is soon to join the Legal Innovation and Technology team at Simmons & Simmons